Copa Libertadores – started in 1960 as “Copa de Campeones de América” but, since 1965, played under its current name – comes this Wednesday to its conclusion. Tigres de Mexico and River Plate of Argentina will face off in the Monumental de Buenos Aires.
The first leg, played on the Tigres home turf, saw a 0-0 draw. This is not entirely surprising, given the fact that these rivals have met two other times so far in 2015 and there has never been a winner. The three games total, including the first leg of the final, have all ended in draws: 1-1, 2-2 and 0-0 respectively.
This Wednesday there has to be a winner. As a point of interest, it should be noted that the only occasion on which the two matches of the Copa Libertadores final ended goalless was in 1967, when Racing de Argentina defeated Nacional de Uruguay.
In those days, the “gauchos” were crowned by way of an extra match, which ended two goals to one in the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile – a neutral field. Today, there is no extra game, but rather the typical format of 30 additional minutes and then shots from the penalty spot to decide the winner.
Since the Tigres are coming into the Copa Libertadores as a guest team, River Plate will automatically play in the 2015 FIFA Club World Cup and the 2016 Recopa Sudamericana against the team that wins the 2015 Copa Sudamericana, regardless of this outcome. The winner will also qualify for the second round of the 2016 Copa Libertadores.
The Argentine team, will have the advantage this time of playing at home, a potentially important factor in the outcome of the final. Looking back, River Plate has won all four home final matches they’ve played in the Copa Libertadores, defeating Peñarol in 1966 (3-2), Cruzeiro in 1976 (2-1), and America de Cali in both 1986 (1-0) and 1996 (2-0). It is not by chance that River Plate is the winningest team at home during the 56 year history of the tournament.
River Plate, which finished second in their group under the Tigres, had a very difficult way to the final, especially when, in the quarterfinals, they lost at home to Cruzeiro of Brazil. However, they recovered in Belo Horizonte with a 3-0 victory.
Also noteworthy is the fact that in 2011, River Plate fell to the second division of Argentine football and had to fight in 2012 to return to the Argentine league. That said, River Plate has won the Libertadores twice, in 1986 and 1996.
The likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Enzo Francescoli, Radamel Falcao, Javier Mascherano, Norberto Alonso, Ubaldo Fillol and Marcelo Gallardo, current coach, have been part of River Plate’s ranks. Today, the Colombian Teofilo Gutierrez and Uruguayan Carlos Sánchez, are two of the biggest names for the team, especially when looking for goals.
For its part, the Mexicans added up 14 points in the group stage and, as leaders, had a slightly less difficult route to reach the final.
The Tigres are a young team, founded seven years after the Copa Libertadores. The most prestigious players who have worn this uniform are Geronimo Barbadillo Peruvian, Argentine Roberto Siboldi and Tomás Boy from México. These days, one of their top figures is Jürgen Damm, who shows real promise for El Tri, as well from Uruguay.
In today’s final, there can be no tie: there will be winner and loser. The Copa Libertadores has been decided 12 times from the spot, and seven of those times have involved Argentine teams. For the record, when it has come to penalties, Argentine teams have won five times and lost only two.
If the match does come down to penalties, goalkeepers Nahuel Guzmán of the Tigres (born in Argentina) and Marcelo Barovero of River Plate will be the protagonists.
Monumental's doors will open four hours early for the title clash. No matter who wins, it will be an exciting match and highlight of soccer in South America as Copa Libertadores honors those men who crossed South America riding on horses, inspired by dreams of independence.