With another convincing performance entirely in keeping with their proud record in the competition, Boca Juniors downed Gremio 2-0 in Porto Alegre yesterday evening to lift the Copa Libertadores de America for the sixth time. Buoyed by a 3-0 lead from the first leg, the Xeneizes rounded off a flawless final display with two goals from star man Juan Roman Riquelme to seal a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007.
"I'm so happy because the team thoroughly deserved to win the cup," beamed the team's top scorer in the competition after notching his seventh and eighth goals of the campaign. "It's an achievement for us to savour along with the whole of Argentina. We had faith in ourselves and we played a great game. We were very focused and deserved to win," added Riquelme, as he celebrated his return to the Argentina side for the forthcoming Copa America in the best possible style.
Boca draw Gremio's sting
The Estadio Olimpico provided a suitably dramatic setting for the return leg, the home fans going to every length to stoke up the atmosphere and heap the pressure on Boca. Alas for them, their local heroes were unable to replicate that pressure on the pitch. Prompted by Carlos Eduardo, Lucio's galloping runs down the left looked the most likely source of joy for OTricolor Gaúcho in the opening stages. But with Mauricio Caranta in commanding form behind a solid-looking Boca defence, there were relatively few alarms for the 2,000-strong Xeneize contingent in the crowd.
It was not long before Riquelme began to weave his
midfield webs, allowing Miguel Angel Russo's men to slow the
game down and frustrate their opponents. Having gained control of
proceedings, the Argentinians duly carved out the first chance of
the game when the unmarked Martin Palermo headed straight into the
hands of Sebastian Saja.
With Tcheco struggling to dent the visitors' composure, it fell to Lucas, making his farewell appearance in the blue and black jersey, to drive the hosts forward and create some kind of pressure on the Boca rearguard. The Liverpool-bound midfielder was at the heart of Gremio's most dangerous first-half move, combining well with Diego Souza, whose thunderous drive came back off the crossbar with Caranta well beaten.
The luck of champions
Secure in the knowledge that only 45 minutes separated them from another continental title, Boca emerged for the second half intent on killing the game off, recycling possession with consummate ease. Although starved of the ball, Gremio nearly pulled a goal back when Bombonera old boy Rolando Schiavi rose above his former team-mates to head against Caranta's left-hand post, the keeper somehow clinging on to the ball after Diego Souza prodded the rebound goalwards.
Deflated by their misfortune in front of goal and their failure to eat into Boca's three-goal cushion, the home side began to run out of ideas. Coach Mano Menezes brought on Amoroso to accompany Tuta and Diego Souza up front, but could only look on in dismay as the visiting defence, expertly marshalled by Daniel Diaz and Claudio Morel Rodriguez, intelligently denied his three-pronged strike force the space they needed to operate.
Roman runs the show
Increasingly unable to shape events, the Brazilians were finally put out of their misery by the irrepressible Riquelme. With the clock running down, the Villarreal loanee latched on to Hugo Ibarra's pass from the right and unleashed a powerful drive into the top right-hand corner of Saja's net. As well as killing off the tie, it was also the first goal the hosts had conceded at home in the whole tournament.
But Riquelme was not finished yet, further deflating the hosts' spirits by arriving in the six-yard-box to stroke home Rodrigo Palacio's fine assist with ten minutes to go. There was still time for the No10 to play in Palermo, but after being upended the centre forward shot wide from the penalty spot.
And that was that. Comprehensive 5-0 aggregate winners, Russo's men joined their predecessors of 1977, 1978, 2000, 2001 and 2003 in securing another Copa Libertadores for the Bombonera's already bulging trophy cabinet, sparking scenes of joy on the chilly streets of Buenos Aires. The reward for the boys in gold and blue is a December trip to Japan to face their fellow continental champions, among them AC Milan, the side they beat en route to hoisting the 2003 Toyota Cup.