Derby matches capture the essence of all that’s wonderful about soccer, and while there are magnificent examples of these clashes across the globe, there are few more passionate, colorful and hostile than when Boca Juniors and River Plate meet in El Superclasico.
And with the two sides set to add another raucous chapter in their illustrious history when they meet again in the semi-final of the Copa Sudamericana at Boca’s La Bombonera stadium (live on FOX Deportes and FOX Sports GO at 6:45pm ET tonight for viewers in the USA), what better time to take a brief look at this engrossing and often unfortunate rivalry?
The two Buenos Aires clubs each have a decorated history and have subsequently forged one of the most unique rivalries in sport. The two giants of the Argentinean game were formed over 100 years ago, with proximity and political constants expediting the animosity between Boca and River.
River—formed in 1901—have always harboured a reputation as the more flamboyant of the two sides. The club traded in their working class birth place of La Boca for the more affluent Nunez in 1923 and have since been perceived as a middle-class team. Subsequently, they were nicknamed Los Millonarios and playing with panache has been at the heart of the club’s stylistic principles.
Boca’s ethos mirrors their background too. The Xeneizes have typically played in a cohesive, industrious style, one that mirrors their blue collar supporter base. It’s just another facet of the dynamic that makes this rivalry such an encapsulating one, but in the present day, those stylistic, political and geographical factors take a back seat. In short, hese two just don’t like each other.
It’s that dislike which leads to a constant struggle for supporters to get one over on each other, and down the years that’s inspired some remarkable displays of fandom. The size of tifos displayed by both sides prior to these Superclasico games are simply staggering, as is the ambition of some supporters to get various artefacts into the ground.
Indeed, in 2012, the River supporters—who call Boca supporters “The Pigs”—floated an inflatable swine in Boca’s synonymous blue and yellow colours in front of the away support, delaying the second half of the game from kicking off. Juniors have their own names for their rivals too, branding River as “The Chickens” given their patent for losing big games.
Passion does occasionally spill over, though, and the rivalry has been punctured by some extremely ill-fated occasions. Regularly the matches have had to be halted because of crowd trouble, flares and supporters scaling fences. But there have also been fans affiliated to each side who have been stabbed, shot and in 1968, 74 fans were killed in a crush at River’s El Monumental in the “Puerta 12”; the cause of the stampede remains debated to this day.
But those unfortunate blemishes aside, this is a fixture brimming with raw emotion. The colour in the stands is incomparable to anywhere in the world game, as is the noise generated by the two sets of supporters. In addition, the manner in which El Monumental or La Bombonera literally shake when a home side scores is both inspiring and for those in attendance, downright scary. There’s little surprise that The Observer put sampling El Superclasico as top of their “50 Sporting Things To Do Before You Die” list.
While the players on show in current encounters may not currently be in the same class as some of the world’s finest players, the South American stars that have featured in this fixture read as a who’s who of the greats of the Latin American game. Diego Maradona, Alfredo di Stefano, Carlos Tevez, Gabriel Batistuta, Mario Kempes and Juan Roman Riquelme are just a smattering of greats to have made their mark on Argentina’s biggest encounter.
This upcoming tie has it’s own crucial connotations as both sides vie for a spot in the final where they will meet either Brazilian outfit Sao Paolo or Atletico Nacional of Colombia. For Boca, a win here would inject some much needed impetus into a stuttering campaign. They’re currently languishing down in fifth place in the Primera Division; River currently sit top of the pile having lost just one game of the 16 played so far.
If you’re searching for a few familiar names to look out for, Giovanni Simeone—son of Atletico Madrid manager Diego—looks set to lead the line for Los Millonarios alongside Colombian World Cup star Teofilo Gutierrez. Boca’s midfield will be anchored by former Real Madrid midfielder and Argentina international Fernando Gago.
River have plenty of injuries and players returning from international duty to contend with, but Boca have made this clash their priority for a long time and subsequently, should have a full strength XI to pick from.
El Superclasico is always one to watch, but it’ll be the first time in a decade that these two have met in a continental competition, and that should bring added spice to what is already an apprehensive and volatile affair. After this clash at La Bombonera, the two sides will go at it again in seven days at El Monumental; you won’t find many soccer supporters complaining too much about that.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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