River Plate won the Copa Libertadores by coming from behind to beat rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in extra-time of their controversially rearranged final in Madrid.
Juan Quintero all but settled a keenly fought encounter at the Bernabeu with a stunning strike after 109 minutes before Gonzalo Martinez broke away for a third, securing a 5-3 aggregate success, in the dying moments.
Boca had taken a first-half lead through Dario Benedetto but River hit back through Lucas Pratto and Boca’s hopes were badly hit after Wilmar Barrios was sent off early in extra-time.
River ended the match victorious but the saga of this final, postponed and moved to Spain after Boca’s team bus was attacked by rival fans in Buenos Aires, may not be over.
Boca failed to get the fixture suspended at the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Saturday but their attempts to have River disqualified could continue.
Boca were much the better side early on and almost went ahead when River’s Jonathan Maidana sliced a clearance over his own bar. The ball rebounded off players from the resulting corner and fell to Pablo Perez shot at Franco Armani.
Boca’s next opportunity also came from a set-piece after Benedetto drilled a shot into the wall. The ball broke for Perez on the right but his goalbound effort was deflected over.
River thought they should have had a penalty for a push on Milton Casco but Boca threatened again through Lisandro Magallan and Carlos Izquierdoz. Armani also had to be alert to punch away a dangerous Sebastian Villa cross in front of Benedetto.
Gonzalo Martinez shot well over for River, who then squandered another opening before Boca broke to take the lead. In a breathless passage of play, Boca goalkeeper Esteban Andrada gave away the ball but River failed to take advantage and Cristian Pavon released Benedetto with a brilliant throughball.
Benedetto skipped over a challenge from Maidana and showed great composure to beat Armani.
River were much more positive in the second half.
They pieced together a good move soon after the restart as Pratto teed up Ignacio Fernandez but he shot narrowly wide.
River continued to dominate but without creating clear-cut chances until Pratto swept home the equaliser after a fine move in the 68th minute.
The game then became scrappy with frequent stoppages and drifted into extra-time, which got off to an explosive start when Barrios earned a second yellow card for a poor challenge on Exequiel Palacios.
River proceeded to dominate possession and their breakthrough came early in the second extra period. They pieced together a series of passes and Quintero struck with a ferocious shot from the edge of the area that went in off the underside of the bar.
Boca responded by sending on Carlos Tevez, the former Manchester United and City forward.
River had a scare almost immediately as Camilo Mayada went close to heading into his own net but Armani reacted quickly.
Leonardo Jara hit a post for Boca in a frantic finish but they were punished for throwing men forward as River broke to score a third through Martinez in stoppage time.
Atlanta United stand on the brink of Major League Soccer glory just 21 months after their first ever competitive match – little wonder president Darren Eales is pinching himself.
United host the Portland Timbers at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium this weekend, when more than 70,000 fans will roar on Tata Martino’s side in the MLS Cup final.
Atlanta have taken MLS by storm since joining as an expansion team in 2017 and are looking to end their second season in existence with a first trophy.
Former Tottenham executive director Eales has played an integral part in shaping United since arriving four years ago, becoming “employee number one” at a club without a fan let alone a player
Now, the Englishman watches arguably the most attractive football in MLS and sees United average more than 54,000 fans, putting them 14th in the world ahead of the likes of Manchester City and Paris St Germain.
“It’s just over four years since I came to Atlanta,” Eales told Press Association Sport on the eve of the MLS Cup final.
“I sat in the office at the Atlanta Falcons’ training ground and literally had a desk and nothing in there except a name plate that said you are president.
“I sat down there and started to draw up the plans on how we try and make Atlanta United one of the top teams in MLS – and to be here only two years into our playing existence actually hosting an MLS Cup final in front of over 70,000 is something really special.
“I am proud of what we’ve achieved.
“Win or lose, it’s going to have been a great year, but obviously I would just love to win it just for the fans of Atlanta because they’ve been so supportive right from the very start and it would be great if we could get them a win.”
Backed by billionaire Arthur Blank, who also owns the Atlanta Falcons, swashbuckling United have captured the imagination of an international, sport-hungry city that has not celebrated a trophy since the Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995.
United are bookmakers’ favourites against the Timbers thanks to home advantage and a superb campaign, which saw them overcome Supporters’ Shield champions New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference showdown as their focus on young talent paid dividends.
Eales wanted to “try and prove that you can build the stars rather than bring in a star that has name recognition” at Atlanta – a tactic that has clearly worked, with free-scoring Josef Martinez this week named MLS’ Most Valuable Player.
Miguel Almiron finished runner-up in that award and is attracting interest from the Premier League, with Newcastle strongly linked.
“He’s a top talent and we’re a team that is trying to win trophies, with an owner who is a billionaire, who cares about winning,” Eales said.
“We’re in a situation where it has to be the right offer for the club, but we’re not going to accept any of the chump change figures I’ve seen in the press.
“If there’s a proper offer, if it’s the right offer for Atlanta United and the player and the league, then we’ll consider it.
“But we’re not under any sort of pressure to transfer the player so in that sense it has to be a realistic offer that measures the true value of Miguel Almiron, who is just a wonderful player.”
It has been widely-speculated that the MLS Cup final could prove Almiron’s last match for Atlanta, just as it might be for MLS Coach of the Year Martino with the Mexico national-team post seemingly in the pipeline.
Eales said the former Barcelona boss will “always be a legend of the club” – yet losing such a key figure does not scare the United president given how far they have come.
“The exciting thing for us is we have got a great base and platform to build the club,” he added.
“Whatever happens, win or lose, it’s just the start. We want to establish a dynasty and be one of the top teams in Major League soccer.
“We get to play (CONCACAF) Champions League next and we’re just going to look to get better and better each year.”
Real Madrid have named their squad for the Club World Cup in the UAE later this month.
As the defending European champions, Los Blancos will represent the continent in the global tournament from December 12-22.
Al Ain, Team Wellington, Guadalajara, Kashima Antlers, Espérance de Tunis and one of Boca Juniors or River Plate will battle out for glory in the Emirates.
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Keylor Navas and Casilla.
Defenders: Carvajal, Odriozola, Sergio Ramos, Varane, Nacho, Marcelo and Reguilón.
Midfielders: Casemiro, Llorente, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Asensio, Ceballos and Fede Valverde.
Attackers: Benzema, Bale, Mariano, Lucas and Vinicius.