Unión Española was five minutes from recording a famous result in one of football’s most iconic venues. With barely five minutes remaining a Santiago Silva goal for Boca Juniors to make it 2-1 edged a tight encounter in the Argentines favour.
La Furia Roja trailed at the break from a splendid Juan Román Riquelme goal but fought back in the second half, scoring a deserved equaliser but could not hold on and take the away goal back to Chile for the second leg this week coming. Although they will have to do so without Uruguayan Diego Scotti who was needlessly sent-off.
From the offset it was clear that this was going to be a high quality encounter with Española looking to play the ball quickly through midfield and into their front players while Boca naturally looked to involve Juan Román Riquelme while offering additional width through their full-backs, especially left-back Clemente Rodríguez.
Out of possession the Chileans were happy to retreat onto the half way line meaning there was little pressure on Cristian Erbes the central of the three midfielders. He would therefore look to build attacks from deep and with options further ahead limited due to Española sitting back he was forced to look for longer passes into Santiago Silva or out to the wings where either his fellow central midfielders had shuttled or one of the full-backs.
Española’s worry was when the ball was played into their half and the midfield pressed. The defence would not come with them allowing Riquelme to find ample space in front of the back four and goal side of Gonzalo Villagra. With two Boca strikers occupying the defenders no one was willing to step out and close him down. There was evidence of this after 15 minutes and on the stroke of half-time.
The first instance saw Riquelme collect possession, turn and force Eduardo Lobos into an unnecessarily acrobatic save. The second was more dangerous as he clipped a delightful ball over the defence from just outside box for Darío Cvitanich, making a run across the defence, who laid a pass into the supporting Walter Erviti and Lobos was again forced into a save.
And the only goal of the first half came about when Riquelme was left unattended outside the box. But this time it was after an 11 pass move, the last four of which were devastating. Pablo Ledesma played a sweeping cross field pass to the advancing Rodríguez. The left-back, unopposed, knocked the ball first time into Riquelme who was in acres of room at the edge of the box. As everyone shaped to shoot the genius that is Juan Román laughed at us mere mortals by firing in a disguised pass with the outside of his right boot to the feet of Cvitanich before receiving the return and with his ‘weaker’ left-foot dispatching a shot across Lobos into the bottom corner. Any replay of the goal should come with the warning ‘Genius at Work’.
While most salivate over Riquelme – and rightly so – it should be noted the part Rodríguez plays; a staple of the way Boca set out. With a narrow midfield a lot of width is provided by the full-backs and Rodríguez, like he and to a lesser extent Sosa done for most of the match, bombed forward. Dagoberto Currimilla not up against a direct opponent was dragged inside to where he expected play to take place, drawn to the blue shirts; opening up room for Rodríguez’s run which was not tracked.
However Unión Española was unfortunate to be trailing at half-time. Arguably, La Furia Roja was the better side in terms of keeping the ball and creating chances. As mentioned they would drop deeper than we usually see from José Luis Sierra’s men with the formation resembling 4-1-4-1 as the two wide forwards would play more as wide midfielders when out of possession.
But in terms of attacking it was the normal Española. Sebastián Jaime and Fernando Cordero stayed high as Emmanuel Herrera linked up play, normally combining with Mauro Díaz who was afforded a floating role moving freely about the pitch and impressing at doing so.
It was when they worked the ball quickly to the right to inverted winger Fernando Cordero. Neither the fastest nor trickiest but if given time to get the ball onto his left-foot more often than not he would deliver a fine ball. Both Emmanuel Herrera and Sebastián Jaime should have done better with freed headers in front of goal. Cordero himself went close with two curling efforts having cut in on his left.
This was when La Furia Roja were at their free-flowing best, Villagra protecting and Díaz and Braulio Leal scheming in midfield. But it was harder for the Chileans when they couldn’t get the ball forward quickly. The longer they held onto the ball Boca would sink into a 4-4-1-1, Riquelme shuttling left and Silva dropping off behind Cvitanich.
There was little to write about in terms of tactics or action in the second half until Española, out of nowhere, equalised. A harmless ball out of defence looked simple for Rolando Schiavi and Juan Insaurralde. However both were drawn to the ball and a flick from Herrera sent Jaime scampering free through the middle of the defence before a confident finish. Rodríguez was too far left to cover for his centre backs mishap.
Naturally the goal provoked Boca into pushing and pressing higher up the pitch. It seemed as if the game would be defence v attack for the last 15/20 minutes but Española were brave and José Luis Sierra brought the forward thinking and piercing winger Jean Paul Pineda on for Jaime when it may have been sensible to bring on Rodolfo Madrid.
Erviti almost grabbed a deserved goal for his all round performance with a piece of individual brilliance, dancing round a handful of challenges but seeing his shot come back of the post.
Boca turned the screw with a final substitute; Julio Falcioni replacing Erbes – whose influence had waned – with Juan Sánchez Miños. Erviti now found himself as the central midfielder with Sánchez Miños wider on the left. It turned out to be a well-judged move by Falcioni. With the more dynamic Erivit in the middle the ball was moved quicker and Boca played with at a quicker tempo with greater width.
Miños had a positive impact but the winning goal came from the right-side where Pineda’s inability to protect the ball on the half way line was taken advantage of by Rivero who pressed, won the ball and gave it to substitute Pablo Mouche who exchanged passes with Riquelme before standing up a cross for Santiago ‘Battering Ram’ Silva to head the winner. Martin Palermo watching on would have been proud of the finish.
The Chileans frustrations in conceding the late goal were shown in Diego Scotti’s wild hack at Riquelme which earned him a straight red card.