Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Lazy Magician Stuns Gremio Some More

Boca Juniors, led by the genius "Lazy Magician" playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, dismantled an attack-minded yet disastrously wasteful Gremio squad in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final. During the first leg last week in Argentina, at the fabled La Bombanera, Boca furthered their cup dreams by beating the Brazilian club 3-0. Tonight, Boca solidified them dreams and took their sixth Libertadores title 2-0, with both goals courtesy of Riquelme.

It was always going to be difficult for the Porto Alegra side to come back from such a deficit, but they played with enthusiasm for much of the first half. But their finishing was abysmal, and Gremio consistently squandered good crosses with poor--or no--finishing moves. No doubt, a dreadful sight for their vocal and flare tossing supporters, who seemed to grow more agitated by the minute with no goals, no salvation in sight. Boca's best attempts for goals in the first half came from striker Rodrigo Palacio in the 28th, when he charged the net and shot, though the ball deflected off of a Gremio player's face before being swatted away by keeper Saja. Then in the 42nd minute Boca had a good opportunity to score when Riquelme took a free kick that could've sent Gremio back into the locker room for the half diligently preparing their exit from the stadium. But the kick was weak and both teams left the pitch looking exhausted and more than a little bit imaginatively spent.

Boca have had a difficult time all year playing on the road, and though they looked more precise than the reckless Gremio side, they didn't look exactly ravenous for goals either. Guess a 3-0 aggregate lead will do that to you. Gremio did get a great chance in the 50th when Gremio's Rolando Schiavi headed in the ball, smacking it off the left-hand post, which then deflected into the oncoming path of Diego Souza, who then blew the shot.

In the stands, Boca and Gremio supporters grew more agitated, charging at one another (they were separated by riot police and a sectional barrier) and tossing projectiles into one another's area. And eventually a flare hurled down from the smoke-filled stands onto the pitch. In the 68th, Boca's Palermo almost scored when the Gremio keeper charged off his line leaving the net complete open except for one defender, who himself was unable to stop the Boca striker from firing off a shot. No worries, since Palermo's shot wide and behind the net.

And then Boca's breakthrough finally emerged in the 69th from a long-range Riquelme shot that beautifully invited itself into the upper left area of the goal. The Gremio players looked understandably crushed. Riquelme scored again in the 81st, and then Palermo had a golden chance to make it 3-0 when he was awarded a penalty kick in the 85th. But he missed, and soon, the agony was over for those poor seething Gremio supporters. Hopefully, many of them will be so foggy from the match (and whatever else) that they'll be unable to remember exactly which hotel the team from Argentina were staying at (there were reports that earlier in the day Gremio and Boca fans fought at the hotel) and simply wallow in their misery without bloodshed.

Riquelme, on the other hand, is now prepared to leave his beloved Boca Juniors and return to Europe. The question now is, who will he play for? West Ham United has been rumored to want him, and I would love to see him there since the former playmaker Reo-Coker has now split. Do I dare dream?

Boca Juniors 2, Gremio 0.


linda said...

I really think Riquelme is best off staying in Argentina. He's happiest there, and that means he can actually play. But financially, I guess that's not realistic.

Have to say, I've got no personal allegiance to Boca, but seeing Riquelme lift that cup made me so happy.

Derek said...

I'm pretty much a neutral when it comes to Argentine football as well, though I've watched Boca over the years (maybe because they're always on) and feel a little partial to them. It's not deep at all. But Riquelme's involvement there made it a lot more special and interesting.

I wish Riquelme would go back to Spain actually, though I think he would be happiest at Boca. I don't really believe the Hammers rumor.