When Argentinian heavyweights Boca Juniors and River Plate go head-to-head it is more than just your run-of-the-mill derby clash. Indeed, such is the transcendental status of this meeting that the Boca-River encounter is now dubbed the superclásico, with British newspaper The Observer even listing it as one of 50 sporting events to see before you die.
When the eyes of Planet Football turn to the mythical Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires as it hosts the highly charged showdown between Argentina's two most successful clubs, it truly is an event you wish you were experiencing at the heart.
The pair's fierce rivalry can be traced all the way back to the early 20th century. River Plate were formed in La Boca, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital on 25 May 1901 following the merger of two existing football sides. Boca Juniors, meanwhile, first saw the light of day in the same district on 3 April 1905, formed by a group of immigrants keen to start their own club.
There exists contrasting reports surrounding both the date and result of the very first meeting between the two teams. For some, it took place on 2 August 1908 in Boca's former ground in the city's southern bay area and ended in a 2-0 success for the home side. Other perhaps more reliable sources disagree, stating that the first match was held at Racing Avellaneda's ground on 24 August 1913 with River emerging 2-1 winners.
Whatever the case, the two clubs quickly began following quite contrasting paths. On the one side you had wealthy River, whose financial might ensured a dominant start to the amateur era despite a nomadic early existence. On the other side were Boca, whose supporters enjoyed an ever-intensifying bond with their La Boca neighbourhood, but for whom initial success took several years. And once the Riverplatenses had made the move to the aristocratic suburb of Nunez and earned the nickname Los Millonarios, the seeds of the superclásico had been sown...
Memorable moves, marksmen
The all-time top scorer in superclásicos is River's Angel Labruna with 16, while Boca's leading marksman in these meetings is ten-goal Paulo Valentin. The record number of derby appearances was set by Reinaldo Merlo, who wore the distinctive white shirt with the red diagonal stripe 42 times against Boca. Not far behind him is former Boca player Silvio Marzolini with 37.
Such is the bitter rivalry between the teams, that relatively few players have managed to successfully cross the divide. Former Argentina keeper Hugo Gatti was one of those, however, playing nine of his total of 38 superclásicos for River prior to his switch to Boca - where he went on to become a fans' favourite. Norberto Menendez, for his part, won three titles with Los Millonarios in the 1950s before clinching three more with Los Xeneizes in the 1960s.
Tales of derbies past
The first encounter of the professional era took place on 19 September 1931 and ended in controversy. With the scores tied at 1-1, River abandoned the pitch in protest after three of their players were dismissed for disputing Boca's equaliser, whereupon the points were awarded to Los Xeneizes. El Millo would have to wait until 1933 for their first win, though the 3-1 success came with the added bonus of ensuring Boca missed out on the title to rivals San Lorenzo de Almagro.
On the high-scoring front, River's heaviest victory came courtesy of the team nicknamed La Máquina (The Machine), their 5-1 win in 1941 coming courtesy of goals from Jose Moreno, Labruna, Adolfo Pedernera and Aristobulo Deambrossi (2). Boca returned the favour in kind in both 1959 and 1982, with the latter humbling taking place in River's own Estadio Monumental and featuring goals from then Xeneize players Oscar Ruggeri and Ricardo Gareca - both of whom would later wear the white and red of River.
Continuing the theme, both River and Boca have celebrated title success at their arch-rivals' grounds, with Boca edging River to the 1969 Metropolitano championship after a 2-2 draw at the Monumental on the final matchday. El Millo had their revenge in 1986, when they arrived at the Bombonera having already clinched the title and had the temerity to celebrate before the match began. That derbi, which River won 2-0 thanks to a Norberto Alonso brace, will long be remembered for the bright orange ball used due to the mountains of white tissue paper launched onto the field from the stands.
I played in a Barcelona-Real Madrid game, a match that is so important because it involves two huge cities, but Boca-River is something else. It's like going to bed with Julia Roberts!
But despite the pair's status as two of the most successful clubs in Argentina and indeed South America, only once have they met in a final. That so far unique occasion was the culmination of the 1976 Torneo Nacional, with Boca winning 1-0 after Riben Sune caught out Ubaldo Fillol with a free-kick from distance.
Los Boquenses also have fond memories of Libertadores superclásicos. In 2000, eventual winners Boca roared to a 3-0 quarter-final second-leg win to overturn a first-leg deficit and advance to the competition's last four at River's expense. In 2004, at the semi-final stage this time, River narrowly won the second leg 2-1 to take the tie to penalties, with holders Boca emerging victorious at the Monumental in spite of a blanket ban on away fans. It has not been all Boca recently, however, with former River coach Ramon Diaz guiding his charges to an unforgettable 3-0 away win in the 2002 edition of the continental showpiece.
Albiceleste legend Diego Maradona, who chose a 1997 superclásico as a fitting end to his playing career, had this to say: "I played in a Barcelona-Real Madrid game, a match that is so important because it involves two huge cities, but Boca-River is something else. It's like going to bed with Julia Roberts!"