With two goals from Gonzalo Higuain and one from Ernesto Farias, River Plate took home the spoils in today's Superclasico. Rodrigo Palacio had tied the match for Boca Juniors, but Ricardo La Volpe's team never could claw their way back into the game after Higuain's second goal nine minutes into the second half. River took advantage of Boca's defensive alingment, a three man back line, putting themselves in position to contend for the title.
The game started at a furious pace. At the five minute mark, when little to nothing was happening in the game, Higuain brought the ball down off his chest an unleashed a fierce drive off of the right post. Boca's keeper Aldo Bobadilla wouldn't have gotten to it if it had been just a half a foot to the left.
Before ten minutes had passed, Passarella had to tinker with his lineup. Fedirico Dominguez hurt his thigh in a collision with Jose Maria Clavo and had to come off in the 9th minute. He was replaced by Matias Abelairas, only just brought up to the first team during the week leading up to the game.
Up to this point, other than the shot off the post, the game was played in the tight, congested midfield. The only thing that seemed to shake the game into any rhythm was Higuain's first goal. In the 30th minute, Fernando Belluschi whipped in a free kick from the left edge of the penalty area. After a comical series of clearances and shots on goal, Higuain backheeled the ball past a stranded Bobadilla and put River up one to nothing.
The number 19's moment of creativity was canceled out two minutes later. Fernando Gago released Palacio down the right, and after a quick move to get past Cristian Nasuti, struck a right-footed shot over River keeper Juan Pablo Carrizo's right shoulder to level the game at one.
From that point on, Boca had the better of the play. El Monumental fell silent as their team had the wind taken from their sails. Boca, spurred on by their traveling supporters, almost turned the match around. First Neri Cardozo nearly gave his side the lead from the top of the box. Then Marin Palermo took an individual effort a little too far and lost his chance as the River keeper collected the ball at his feet.
River came out late for the second half, making the Boca players wait an extra ten minutes out on the field for the game to resume. The home team started the half the more energetic of the two. Belluschi was winning the ball in the midfield and finding unmarked teammates down the wings while Farias was starting to become more active and linking up with Hinguain. This directly led to River's second goal. In the 54th minute Hinguain was played into space down the left, easily beat Boca's defenders to the ball, and left Bobadilla on the ground as he dribbled around him and scored into an empty net. An exquisite individual effort at the end of a lightning quick counter-attack. River up two to one.
But again, like in the first half, Boca had a clear opportunity to equalize after River took the lead. Claudio Morel's beautifully struck free kick was saved by Carrizo and the rebound was kicked out by Belluschi.
Despite another chance or two, Boca were started to show major gaps in their backline as well as giving the ball away too easily in the midfield. River were closer to scoring another than Boca was to drawing the match. River's third goal was almost on the board a number of times before Farias received a throughball up the middle of the field that found him all by himself with only Bobadilla to beat. As Daniel Diaz got to him to close down the space, Farias toe-poked it past the Boca keeper. It left the River number 9 with a goal in each of the last two matches against their cross town rivals.
The party was set loose in the stands as River had a number of chances to increase their lead. To top an already bad day for the visiting team, Matias Silvestre continued to argue a foul called by ref Horacio Elizondo and was given his second yellow card of the day.
As the final whistle was blown, Argentina's Primera saw the end of Boca's 22-game unbeaten streak as well as the renewal of a competitive season with nine matches to play.
Passarella found the perfect tonic for a rough patch that his team had found itself in the last couple of weeks. River had come into the match with two points from the last two games as well as the distractions surrounding Ariel Ortega's 'personal problems.' There couldn't have been any other result acceptable to Passarella if River was to retain any possibility of winning the championship.
Now los Millonarios find themselves with the ideal launching pad for what remains of the 2006 Apertura season. Trailing Boca by only one point, River now travel ten miles south of Buenos Aires to take on Banfield next week.
Boca host National of Uruguay hoping to overturn a 2-1 deficit from their first-leg Copa Sudamericana round of 16 match. They are then home again on Sunday against visiting Newell's Old Boys.
La Volpe has probably seen his honeymoon end with Boca supporters. At a press conference after the match, he acknowledged his side's fight and determination, but also addressed what he felt turned the match. "Unfortunately, luck is the most important factor in these types of matches...River had it and Boca didn't." Well, at least he didn't blame it on the ball boys. Looking forward, he said that his team was ready to fight it out to stay in first. "Right now we have a game to prepare for on Thursday against National. We know that in the next day or two we'll be sad, but there's always a chance for revenge." If Boca get past National, they could face River in the Copa Sudamericana quarterfinals.
Ricardo La Volpe quotes [TyC Sports]
Match Stats [ESPN Soccernet]