When 21-year-old Romarinho calmly chipped Boca Juniors goalkeeper Orion late in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final at the Bombonera last week, he became an instant hero with Corinthians fans. More importantly, though, the strike enabled O Timão to snatch a 1-1 draw and head into tonight’s second leg in Sao Paulo with considerable grounds for optimism.
However, despite playing at their beloved Pacaembu and requiring a win of any description to lift their maiden Libertadores crown and book a place in the FIFA Club World Cup in December, Corinthians have good reason to be wary. Facing them will be a team with a long history of Copa Libertadores successes, specifically away from home, and not least against Brazilian sides.
Corinthians (BRA) - Boca Juniors (ARG)
Wednesday, 4 July, 21:50 (local time) — Pacaembu, Sao Paulo
Those who say the Brazilian outfit must be very vigilant at home against six-time champions Boca need only point to the quarter-finals of this very edition. Compatriots Fluminense, who had the best record of any team during the group phase, looked to be heading for a penalty shoot-out with Los Xeneizes when Santiago Silva silenced the Engenhao with a strike in the closing seconds to send his side through. More worryingly for O Timão, it was just the latest in a series of blows Boca have inflicted on Brazilian teams in recent years.
In Copa Libertadores finals alone, the Buenos Aires side have come up against Brazilian opposition three times since 2000. On each occasion Boca ran out winners, despite playing all three return legs on Brazilian soil. In 2000, they prevailed on penalties against Palmeiras after a 0-0 draw, before beating Santos 3-1 and Gremio 2-0 in 2003 and 2007 respectively.
The lessons of history suggest the home side will go into the game wary of their opponents, something Corinthians coach Tite is well used to, as he explained in the build-up. “If you believed all the mystique, then we’d already be out of this competition. Everyone says Corinthians don’t do well in the Libertadores. I’ve been hearing that since the first game.”
Paulinho v Juan Roman Riquelme
With their veteran playmaker calling the shots as ever, Boca go up against a Corinthians side famed for their tactical discipline and cohesion. Xeneize fans will therefore be hoping Riquelme can dictate play in midfield and swing the tie in their favour, as he has been doing since the Round of 16 (not to mention during the three other Libertadores titles the team have won under his command). For their part, the home side have a player in Paulinho who personifies the effectiveness of the group. Nominally a defensive midfielder, the 23-year-old got forward to score the winner against Vasco da Gama in the last eight, before playing a key role in his side’s semi-final win over Santos.
Did you know?
Since 2005, the destination of the Copa Libertadores has always been decided on Brazilian soil, with Sao Paulo (2005), Porto Alegre (2006 and 2007), Rio de Janeiro (2008), Belo Horizonte (2009), Porto Alegre (2010) and Sao Paulo again (2011) hosting the decisive games.
20 – The number of years since a Brazilian club prevailed against an Argentinian one in the final of the Copa Libertadores. After Sao Paulo defeated Newell's Old Boys on penalties at the Morumbi in 1992 to claim their first continental crown, the subsequent five deciders between teams from the two countries all went the way of the Argentinians.
What they said
“What still pains me is not that I didn’t get much of a chance at [former club] Corinthians, but the penalty I missed for Velez in last year’s semi-final,” Boca striker Santiago Silva in an interview this week with FIFA.com.
“Even though I’m not one of the big names here, if we do end up winning this Libertadores, I don’t think Corinthians fans will forget how important I was for the club over a considerable period of time, thanks to my assists, goals and my ability to win the ball back,” Corinthians striker Jorge Henrique in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com on the eve of the decider.