At La Bombonera, packed with close to fifty thousand Boca Juniors supporters, Palmeiras pulled off a perfect exhibition to assure a spot in the knockout phase of the Libertadores Cup. The victory was Palmeiras’ first at the legendary home grounds of Boca, and only four other Brazilian teams have previously managed the feat. This was also the first time in history that a foreign team beat Boca at La Bombonera by a difference of more than one goal. Epic!
Roger Machado lined up the same starting-eleven as against Internacional last Sunday and Palmeiras started the game better than Boca Juniors. With just one minute on the clock, Keno put pressure on Boca’s keeper, who tried to clear the ball but slammed it into the back of our winger, the ball bouncing back just wide of the goalpost. Two minutes later, Dudu took a shot from outside the box, but missed the target.
Palmeiras’ rhythm slowed down after the initial 10 minutes and Boca grew more confident, creating their first opportunities. The script was set: ball to Pavón on the left, and leave it up to him to create havoc. In the 11th minute, he dribbled Marcos Rocha, but Jailson blocked the shot. In the 22th minute, he took a free kick and hit Jailson’s upper bar.
At this point, the pressure was intense and it started to look like a matter of time before Palmeiras would succumb. However, the Big Green rode out the storm and then, in the 39th minute, Marcos Rocha crossed the ball from the right and found Keno free inside the box, by the far post. The winger headed it firmly, out of the reach of the keeper, to open the score for Palmeiras.
The minutes that followed until the end of the first half were nightmarish, Palmeiras truly suffering as Boca launched a major offensive. In the 40th minute, Ábila lost an unbelievable, open-goal opportunity. And in the 44th minute, he scored. On both of the opportunities he was offside, the goal correctly annulled.
No substitution in halftime for Palmeiras, and the first opportunities of the second half were again the visitors’. In the first minute, Lucas Lima received a heavy challenge from Magallan just outside the box and the free kick was awarded; the challenge should have rendered a yellow card as well, the defender’s second and an early exit to the showers, but our players’ protest left the referee unimpressed. Lucas Lima took the shot, surprising the keeper by sending the ball below the jumping barrier, but off target.
In the seventh minute, Dudu passed the ball to Keno to start a counter-attack. The winger aimed for Lucas Lima inside the box, but a Boca defender courageously intercepted it in the last moment, almost scoring an own goal.
Boca’s better opportunities were shots from outside the box, narrowly missing the target. The best one came with 15 on the clock, a shot from Pavón from the left, Jailson stretching to his absolute limits to brilliantly save Palmeiras from the equalizer.
In the 21th minute, the game-defining moment: Keno aimed a long ball at Dudu, Rossi leaving the goal to punch the ball clear, only partially successful. The ball offered itself to Willian, the keeper still outside the box, but our forward’s strike was blocked by Boca defenders. A second attempt was Lucas Lima’s, again blocked. On the third try, our midfielder brilliantly volleyed the ball above all Boca players and the keeper to score Palmeiras’ second.
Trailing 2-0, Boca went all attack, giving Palmeiras more space to counter-attack. The Argentinians scored through Tévez but, once again, we had a correctly awarded offside. Only on injury time did Boca threaten Palmeiras again, Jailson blocking Ábila’s shot. Seems like our players have learnt from previous mistakes, this time successfully controlling the game until the final whistle.
With this historic victory, Palmeiras head the group at 10 points and are mathematically classified to the next phase of the tournament. The objective now is sum as many point as possible in the remaining two games, in order to secure that Palmeiras, in the knockout phase to follow, always have the second leg home advantage. The victory was of paramount important for players and supporters to regain confidence: the perfect response to the doubts and criticisms of last couple of weeks.
Palmeiras now turn their attention back to the Brazilian championship, where Chapecoense await, on Sunday, at the Allianz Parque, valid for the third round.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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by Augusto Anteghini Oazi
*photo credits: Cesar Greco