The mission was very hard at the outset: Boca Juniors had never been eliminated from the Libertadores Cup after building a two-goal advantage in the first leg. The massive support of a packed Allianz Parque – out of the 40.200 attending, some 2.000 were Boca – and the bravery of our players almost made it possible, but in the end, Palmeiras did not reach the Libertadores Cup final against River Plate.
Felipão opted for the starting-eleven most supporters endorsed: Weverton; Mayke, Luan, Gustavo Gómez and Diogo Barbosa; Felipe Melo (Scarpa), Bruno Henrique (Moisés) and Lucas Lima; Dudu, Willian (Borja) and Deyverson.
Already in the 9th minute, the stadium erupted as Bruno Henrique scored the opener: the dream start Palmeiras needed. However, with the ball already back in the centre of the field for play to resume, the goal was ruled out after the VAR team informed the referee that Deyverson had been offside – and if so, millimetrically – in the build-up to the goal.
In the 17th minute, the first punch to the kidneys: Villa crossed the ball from the right and Ábila appeared unchallenged inside the box to push it into the back of the net. Palmeiras now needed four goals to classify.
The game remained open, both teams creating several opportunities in the first half. Boca, as expected, also took every opportunity to delay play, the referee passive.
Back after the break, Felipão promoted Moisés on Bruno Henrique and told the men to go full throttle. And what a blitz it was! In the 7th minute, Luan scored the equaliser after a corner and in the 15th, Dudu suffered a penalty, converted by Gustavo Gómez. With still 30 minutes available on the clock, the quest of scoring four goals had gone from almost impossible to absolutely possible, and the Allianz Parque was on fire.
Palmeiras maintained the pressure and wasted two excellent opportunities to increase the lead. Then Benedetto came on and took full advantage of an attention lapse in our defence to equalise in the 24th minute, driving a long-range shot into Weverton’s bottom right corner, much like he did in the away game at La Bombonera. Back to mission impossible: Palmeiras needed three goals in 20 minutes.
Our Verdão fought bravely but, in the end, the physical and emotional drain was visible. With Palmeiras’ exist from the 2018 Libertadores Cup, Boca Juniors and River Plate are bound for an epic clash for the title. Both teams deserve their spots in the final, although they did receive CONMEBOL’s helping hand along the way – e.g. fielding irregular players without suffering consequences.
On a positive note, Scarpa came on in the second half and looked good; he might prove important for the remainder of the season. Bad news is Willian suffered a muscular injury to his thigh and will be out for at least three weeks.
For Palmeiras, no time to cry over spilled milk. The year has been a good one – 2nd in the Paulistão, semi-finalist in the Brazil Cup and the Libertadores Cup – but will only go down in history as such when Scolari and the men lift the Brazilian League trophy. Palmeiras are in pole position, four points ahead of Flamengo and five points ahead of Internacional. With seven rounds to go, four victories should suffice to secure the title. On paper, the two upcoming games are the hardest: Santos, at home, and Atlético Mineiro, away. Santos’ last five games compute four victories and a draw; on Saturday, they will feel the heat of the Allianz Parque. 34.000 tickets have already been sold. Smoked kippers, anyone?
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
– – – ooo – – –
by Augusto Anteghini Oazi & Kristian Bengtson