A Copa Libertadores final is a special occasion for any footballer, but for Santiago Silva, Wednesday evening's second leg between Corinthians and Boca Juniors means just that little bit more. The Uruguayan goal-getter had a brief spell with O Timão ten years ago and will be making his return to the Pacaembu with Los Xeneizes, the club he supported as a boy. His task there will be to help the Buenos Aires giants recover from a 1-1 draw in the home leg and secure the biggest prize of his career to date.
“Yes, when I was young I had a Boca poster in my bedroom,” El Tanque told FIFA.com. “I was fascinated by the team, the kit and the players, and it’s amazing to be here now.”
Now 31, Silva is preparing for the most important game of a career that has also taken him to Uruguay, Germany, Portugal and Italy. Coming 12 months after he came so close to reaching the Libertadores final with Velez Sarsfield, Wednesday’s showpiece offers him a shot at redemption.
“I’ve got some unfinished business, not because I didn’t get much of a chance at Corinthians but because of the penalty I missed for Velez in last year’s semi-final,” he explained.
It was in June 2011, in the return leg against Penarol, that the front-man suffered an untimely slip as he took a second-half penalty, sending the ball over the bar to allow the Montevideo side to squeeze into the final on the away-goals rule. “It was incredible. It’s not something you usually see, but it happened to me,” he lamented.
Ten years ago, a young Silva looked on from the bench as Carlos Parreira’s star-studded Corinthians side, featuring the likes of Dida, Deivid, Ricardinho, Rogerio and Vampeta, won trophy after trophy. “It was impossible to get on the pitch and show what I could do, as I was so young and the team was playing so well,” said Silva, who nevertheless said he has very happy memories of his short stay with the Sao Paulo giants.
Now a wiser player and in the form of his life, the self-confessed admirer of Gabriel Batistuta knows exactly what kind of atmosphere he and his team-mates can expect at the Pacaembu this week.
“People don’t really know how much of a phenomenon Corinthians are in Brazil,” he said. “They’re like Boca and they’ve got more supporters than anyone. They’re fanatical and they’re everywhere, they’re la mitad más uno [in reference to one of Boca’s nicknames, “Half Plus One”, ie they are supported by half of Argentina’s population plus one].
“I’m expecting a fantastic atmosphere to play in, though we have a lot of experience in the team and we’ll be able to handle it without any problems. Their players will be desperate to win their first Libertadores and that could work against them.”
Twice a top-scorer in the Argentinian league, with Banfield and then Velez, Silva was signed by Boca from Fiorentina with the Copa Libertadores campaign in mind. Though the strongly built striker has scored three vital goals in his side’s last three outings in the competition, he is not entirely happy with his contribution so far.
“I’m delighted to have reached a final for the first time but I can’t say I’m satisfied yet,” he explained. “I would have liked to have scored a lot more goals. I hope they come in Brazil, and maybe after the game I will be able to say how happy I feel.”
Boca’s away record in this year’s competition should give the Uruguayan grounds for optimism, the Argentinians having secured their progress from the Round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals in away games at Union Espanola, Fluminense and Universidad de Chile respectively. There is also the fact that Boca clinched their 2000, 2003 and 2007 Libertadores titles in Brazil, though their rivals on those occasions bore little relation to the current Corinthians side, as Silva himself explained:
“This Corinthians team is very similar to ours and they’re more tactical than your average Brazilian side. They don’t have a game-changer like Neymar at Santos or Deco at Fluminense, and they sit further back and attempt to hit on the break. They tend to take a few more risks at home, though, which could work to my favour when it comes to battling it out with their defenders.”
In sending one last message to the Xeneizes fans, Silva signed off in defiant tone: “Boca have earned respect the world over by winning titles, and that’s why we’ll be going to Brazil to bring the Copa back, to dominate them. Can I see myself winning? Yes, it’s going to be dog-eat-dog and I’m very optimistic.”