River keep drama on the field to win Copa

Ecstatic River Plate players celebrating after beating fierce rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final in Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The second leg was moved from Argentina after a violent attack on Boca'
Ecstatic River Plate players celebrating after beating fierce rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final in Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The second leg was moved from Argentina after a violent attack on Boca's team bus saw the original game on Nov 24 postponed.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID • River Plate battled back to beat bitter Argentinian rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in extra time for their fourth Copa Libertadores title on Sunday amid praise for the successful rescheduling and fears over the future of the winning coach.

The second leg was moved to Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium, more than 9,656km from River's El Monumental in Buenos Aires, after a violent attack on Boca's team bus saw the original game on Nov 24 postponed.

This was the first time both clubs had met in the final of South American football's top-tier competition with the first leg finishing 2-2.

Boca took the lead through Dario Benedetto but Lucas Pratto equalised before Juan Quintero and Gonzalo Martinez scored in extra time, aided by a red card for Wilmar Barrios, to win a fittingly dramatic contest for River.

After winning the trophy for the first time since 2015, River captain Leonardo Ponzio claimed his side "were superior". He said: "After trying to stay quiet about everything that happened, we showed on the pitch we were better."

The fixture, which resulted in a huge security operation involving 2,500 police officers, had been billed as one of football's greatest and stars like Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin were among the 62,200 in attendance.

Although there was no repeat of the anarchy that cast a shadow on Argentinian football despite the rabid support and plumes of blue and red smoke, Boca coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto revealed his "sadness for not winning the Cup".

He later confirmed Boca would not take legal action to overturn the scoreline, saying: "As far as the result goes, for me, it's final."

The South American football governing body also hailed Real for staging the game without any incidents. Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez said: "The important thing is there was a winner at last and there was no trouble.

"I have to thank (Real president) Florentino Perez because it was a spectacular occasion for everyone... In the end, it was a party that took place in Madrid."

While River basked in the victory that earned them a berth in the Fifa Club World Cup - they will enter the semi-final stage in the United Arab Emirates next Tuesday - there was also resignation that coach Marcelo Gallardo would find it hard to resist overtures from European clubs after his heroics.

Despite River sporting director Enzo Francescoli insisting they "would be going for more" with the 42-year-old at the helm, Ponzio conceded his 41/2-year reign could end as "one day, he will go to Europe".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2018, with the headline 'River keep drama on the field to win Copa'. Print Edition | Subscribe