South America can remember few games like it and media applications for the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final in Buenos Aires on Saturday outstripped supply by 10 to one. Boca Juniors versus River Plate is the mother of all derbies, a Superclasico to beat all others.
Over two legs, beginning at Boca’s La Bombonera stadium this weekend, the clubs will contest the most coveted prize on the continent and South America’s equivalent of the Champions League. The biggest names in Argentinian football - bitter city rivals for the length of their existence - have met in this competition before but never in the final or amid so much anticipation.
Officials in Argentina, including the security minister in Buenos Aires, wanted allocations of 4,000 tickets to be set aside for away fans but the Superclasico has been staged without travelling crowd since 2014 and the clubs agreed last week that neither tie will host away fans.
Their most recent meeting in the Copa Libertadores, three years ago, was abandoned at half-time after four Boca players were attacked with pepper spray in La Bombonera’s tunnel with by a group of River Plate supporters.
Boca’s press box seats just over 250 journalists. Reports say they have received more than 2,500 applications for accreditation for Saturday’s tie from overseas media alone. The return leg, on November 24, will take place at River Plate’s Estadio Antonio Vespucio Liberti, with a capacity of close to 70,000.
Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds United’s head coach, cannot fail to take an interest in a game of almost unprecedented hype. Born and bred in Rosario and a disciple of football in his home country, one of Bielsa’s last acts as manager of Newell’s Old Boys was to take the club to the final of the Copa Libertadores for the first and only time in their history.
Newell’s were beaten on penalties by Brazilian club Sao Paulo having won the first leg 1-0 and lost the second by the same scoreline. For Bielsa, that run brings back mixed memories: pride in taking Newell’s so far but a reminder of how far away the most successful period of his career is.
“It was a long time ago and we have two possible points of view on it,” Bielsa said. “For those who are from Newell's Old Boys, it's an unforgettable memory. But for those who analyse my career they say the last time I won (a trophy) was a long time ago.”
Boca Juniors - the spiritual home of Diego Maradona - have won the Copa Libertadores six times, most recently in 2007. River Plate have claimed the trophy on three occasions and last did so in 2015. None of those triumphs would touch the sensation of winning it in this month’s derby, at the expense of Buenos Aires’ other half.
For the players, coaches and supporters involved, Bielsa said the experience would be incomparable. “It's the dream game,” he admitted. “Everyone dreams of this kind of game because you have the aspiration of winning this kind of game. In this kind of game you have the emotion you want to live.”