Part of the perceived wisdom within football is that the beautiful game can often give you a chance to set the record straight. And while clearly not always the case, Boca Juniors coach Julio Cesar Falcioni has been presented with such an opportunity in this year’s Copa Libertadores.
Now 55 years of age, the former goalkeeper has the chance to win the coveted trophy at the fourth time of asking, having seen it slip agonisingly through his fingers during his playing days in the 1980s. Indeed, victory over Corinthians in the 2012 final could finally end the jinx of the Argentinian, nicknamed El Gato (The Cat) in Colombia, who reached three continental deciders in his eight years at America de Cali only to fall to defeat against Argentinos Juniors (1985), River Plate (1986) and Penarol (1987).
“The last one was the most painful,” Falcioni told FIFA.com last December, fresh from Los Xeneizes’ victory in the Apertura 2011, which earned them a place in this year’s Libertadores. “We won 2-0 in Cali and we were leading 1-0 in Montevideo, but they came back to win (2-1). It went to a decider that was goalless deep into extra time, a result which would have given us the title on goal difference. But then we conceded in the last attack of the game!” recalled Falcioni, who also reached the Copa semis with Los Escarlatas in 1983 and 1988.
The Libertadores is thus more than familiar territory for El Emperador (The Emperor), whose tally of 77 appearances in the competition is the highest of any Argentinian player to date. Eleven of those came with Velez Sarsfield, where he came through the youth ranks and made his Libertadores debut back in 1980. The remaining 66 were in the colours of America, with that 1988 semi-final his last outing in the tournament. What's more, Falcioni is in his third Libertadores campaign as a coach, having taken former club Banfield into the competition on two occasions, guiding them to the quarter-finals in 2003 and the Round of 16 in 2009.
“I’ve got my own Copa history and Boca have theirs too,” said Falcioni, whose current club are going into their tenth final and aiming for a seventh title. “But you have to play this final in the present, in the here and now. The past doesn’t count. However, to be among the top two sides in South America is already something to be proud of."
And though Boca’s only defeat in this campaign came at their Bombonera stadium, when they went down 2-1 to Fluminense in their first home game of the group phase, since then Los Xeneizes have turned their ground into a fortress once more. Juan Roman Riquelme and Co have now racked up five consecutive home wins in the Libertadores and kept four clean sheets in the process, including a 1-0 victory over Flu in the first leg of the pair’s quarter-final tie.
Facing them in the final are a similarly well-balanced and effective Corinthians side, with quality performers from back to front. In fact, many observers have highlighted the common ground between the two sides, comparisons added weight by the fact O Timão are still unbeaten and have conceded just three times thus far.
“We’ve been following their progress throughout,” said Falcioni, who will be aware that two of those three goals conceded came on Corinthians’ travels. “They’re compact, very fast and just as deserving of a place in the final as we are.”
Yet, with potentially just 180 minutes separating Falcioni and Boca from Libertadores glory, has the moment arrived for El Gato to finally get his claws into the Libertadores?