Riquelme dazzles as Boca make history
The consensus was that Boca Juniors’ 3-0 win over visiting Gremio in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores 2007 final significantly flattered the hosts. The Brazilians had conceded two goals after falling to a numerical disadvantage just before the hour, and were the better side for large portions of a game in which the Argentinians’ goalkeeper Mauricio Caranta emerged as the man of the match.
Given their stellar performance at the Bombonera, and with the Grêmistas roaring them on inside their own Estadio Olimpico, there was genuine hope Mano Menezes’s men could turn it around five years ago to this Wednesday. And the men in the blue and black stripes certainly went about their job brightly, taking the game to Miguel Russo’s side.
However, Tuta and Carlos Eduardo spurned fine opportunities, Lucio twice was narrowly off target with long-range piledrivers, Diego Souza and Rolando Schiavi were denied by the woodwork, and Caranta made one courageous seizure of a loose ball when a Gremio goal appeared a formality.
One man who had been in prolific form throughout the campaign was Juan Roman Riquelme. Boca had been the cusp on group-stage elimination, but a masterclass from the elegant playmaker inspired a 7-0 thrashing of Bolivar in their final outing to edge them into the knockout phase. There, Riquelme scored in starred in both legs of the 4-3 win over Velez Sarsfield in the last 16, hit what proved to be the winner as Los Xeneizes eliminated Libertad in Paraguay, and then headlined a thrilling comeback victory over Cucuta Deportivo in the semi-finals, before dispatching a sublime free-kick and having a hand in Boca’s other two goals in the first leg of the final.
Riquelme was, nevertheless, to save the best till last – and his best was arguably the greatest goal in the history of the Copa Libertadores. When the No10, who was on loan from Villarreal, collected the ball on the right corner of the area in the 68th minute, there appeared zero danger. Yet Riquelme employed speed and swerve to send a diagonal thunderbolt beyond the fingertips of Gremio No1 Sebastian Saja and just inside the post.
Riquelme was renowned for the spectacular, but he completed a 2-0 success on the night in atypical fashion, bravely sliding in between two defenders to stab a ball he had no right to get to into the back of the net with ten minutes remaining.
Boca had won their fourth Libertadores title in the past eight years and sixth overall, which left them just one shy of record champions Independiente. They had earned a ticket to that year's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. They had recored the biggest victory in the history of the final. Those rewards were indebted to one man.
Mano Menezes added: “You can mark a star like Riquelme well for 89 minutes, but in just one minute he can decide the game. He won Boca the final. He’s magic, a phenomenal player.”
“Roman is a one-off,” enthused the former Barcelona man’s Boca team-mate Martin Palermo. “He’s capable of doing things that the rest of us wouldn’t even dream, and he does it as if it’s easy.”
And while 5-0 may suggest an easy Boca victory, it wouldn't have been without one of the greatest individual performances the fixture has ever witnessed.