They came, they saw, they reached the final. After negotiating a
long and winding trail, Boca Juniors and Gremio will fight it out
to become continental champions in the first final in four years to
pit Argentinian and Brazilian sides together.
The legendary Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires provides an appropriate setting for this evening's first leg, with the return fixture taking place next week in Porto Alegre, the city where Internacional hoisted the trophy aloft last season.
Read on as FIFA.com sets the scene for what is sure to be a gripping conclusion to South America's biggest club competition.
Argentina-Brazil, the story continues
This is no ordinary Copa Libertadores final. Apart from contesting the right to become continental champions, Boca Juniors and Gremio will also be playing out another chapter in the long-running rivalry between Argentina and Brazil, one that has seen the two countries battle for continental supremacy for many a year.
Albicelestes and Auriverdes have largely monopolised the competition since its inception in 1960, with seven different Argentinian sides winning the trophy 20 times in all, while a total of eight Brazilian clubs have won it 13 times.
This is the tenth time teams from the two countries have faced off in the final and it is the Argentinians who hold sway with seven wins to their rivals' three. But with Brazilian outfits winning the competition in the last two years, Boca fans would be well advised not to read too much into that statistic.
As far as this year's title aspirants are concerned, this is their first ever clash in the Libertadores, although the two have met on six previous occasions, the Xeneizes winning three, losing two and drawing one.
Boca, who saw off Brazilian rivals in the 1977, 2000 and 2003 finals, have not lost an international clash at their Buenos Aires home since 22 October 2003, when Atletico Nacional of Colombia shocked the hosts with a 1-0 win in the Copa Sudamericana.
Miguel Angel Russo's side have played six home games in their 2007 Copa Libertadores campaign (only three of them at the Bombonera), scoring a hugely impressive 18 goals in the process while conceding only one. With the away-goals rule not applying in this year's final, home wins by whatever scoreline will take on even greater importance, a fact not lost on the Boca coach.
"It's a Libertadores final so there's no room for
error," warned Russo, who will be relying on Juan Roman
Riquelme to direct operations out on the pitch. "We
mustn't leave ourselves exposed on the counterattack. Boca will
be going all out to win. That's the way we play."
Time is right for Gremio?
Superstitious Gremio fans with an eye on the history books will surely be confident of success. The Porto Alegre side first won the competition in 1983, and repeated the trick 12 years later in 1995. With another 12 years having elapsed since then, the Brazilians will be hoping fate can guide them to a hat-trick of titles.
Whatever the omens are, the task will not be easy. Of their six away games so far in this year's Copa Libertadores, Mano Menezes' side have won only one and lost five. Even so, the cauldron-like atmosphere of the Bombonera is not something that unduly worries the Gremio squad, as striker Tuta, who has just recovered from injury, explains: "I played there with Palmeiras and we didn't lose. The only problem is the noise, which makes it hard to communicate with your team-mates. But we'll be playing our usual game, we've got our strong points and they won't find it easy to beat us."
The coach, who has yet to name his starting line-up, will no doubt be drawing on the inside information provided by his two ace spies: keeper Sebastian Saja, formerly with San Lorenzo, and defender Rolando Schiavi, who tasted Copa Libertadores success with Boca in 2003.