Boca Juniors grab crucial road win in Copa Libertadores
By Marc Serber
Boca Juniors used two set pieces to dispense of Barcelona and leapfrog their opponents off the bottom of Group 1 in the Copa Libertadores.
Juan “El Burrito” Martinez and Claudio Perez struck in the space of four second-half minutes to stamp their dominance at the Estadio Monumental in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
It all looked very different at the beginning, however, as it was the home side which started on the front foot. Playing in a 3-5-2, Barcelona looked to launch long balls to forward Michael Arroyo who pulled out wide to the left.
From there, Boca had to deal with a three headed monster as Arroyo could either link up with Damian Diaz (playing in a free role), cut inside or get to the by-line before crossing into the box.
To make matters worse, Bryan De La Torre, the left midfielder was just as adept at occupying whatever space Arroyo left. De La Torre was every bit as dangerous down the flank as he was cutting inside and looking for a shot of his own.
Whether the ball was directly played out to Arroyo or De La Torre on the left or dealing with Diaz down the center, Boca looked to have their hands full and used an outside midfielder to drop from a 4-4-2 to a 5-3-2 without the ball.
Going forward, Boca seemed only to have two cards up its sleeve. Either thumping long balls up to Martinez in hopes of hitting on the break or by attacking down their left through Clemente Rodriguez and Guillermo Burdisso.
Luckily for Boca, Arroyo was unable to take advantage of his chances (one of the main reasons, I think, that this talented youngster has yet to make his way to Europe) and the half ended in a stalemate.
Boca came out with a renewed sense of confidence and head coach Carlos Bianchi got it right by changing from a counter-attack to a more possessive style.
The Argentines bossed the game while Barcelona’s aforementioned players hardly had a sniff of the ball.
As all good teams do- especially on the road- Boca took advantage of its set pieces to turn its dominance into deserved goals.
In the 58th minute, Burdisso was first to a header off a corner kick and Martinez beat the defender on the near post to knock in the loose ball.
Just minutes later, Barcelona were once again made to pay for their inability to win an ariel battle. Claudio Perez climbed highest to power home Nicolas Colazo’s delightful free kick.
From that point on, Barcelona had no chance. With Arroyo non existent and the ability to combine with either Diaz (who also disappeared) or De La Torre gone, the home side lacked any ambition in the final third. In fact, Boca goalkeeper Agustin Orion made his first save of the second half in the 80th minute.
Credit also needs to go to Pablo Ledesma and Emiliano Albin for keeping Barcelona’s left wing under reps in the second half.
Barcelona were offered a lifeline when Juan Paredes was brought down in the box in injury time. Arroyo duly converted the penalty, but the final whistle went moments later handing all three points to the better side.
Anything else would have been harsh on Boca. Once last year’s finalist began to play with the confidence that their historic badge demands, the victory was theirs.
Both goals may have come on set-pieces, but this was no smash and grab job.
I hope this team stays up. They have had great players come through their youth system.