Why the Boca Juniors and River Plate Superclasico is the best rivalry in sports

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The following was written by the great Jack Tilghman. Make sure to give him a follow and a big thank you for this great article.

Quite often big matches underwhelm us, especially in this age of social media and 24/7 media coverage. Almost no match can live up to the hype. This past World Cup Final between France and Croatia had plenty of drama and six goals, the previous two World Cup Finals did not see a goal until after the 110 minute mark. The last two Copa America Finals were scoreless even after extratime and went to penalties. Yesterday’s first Final between Boca Juniors and River Plate at La Bombonera lived up, and then some.

River dominated the early stages, forcing Boca goalkeeper Agustin ROSSI into a few very good saves before the Xeneizes took the lead through Ramon ABILA in their first real attack of the match. Just second later, River’s much maligned forward Lucas PRATTO equalized, silencing the Bombonera crowd. When Boca took the lead again through substitute Dario BENEDETTO, River was again able to bounce back and tie the match. Yet the highest drama was yet to come. In the 89th minute, club idol Carlos TEVEZ charged through the middle and squared the ball to BENEDETTO who saw his shot saved in sensational fashion. “The save of the championship,” was what Boca radio announcer Daniel MOLLO called it.

Even for the neutral watching from home with no connection to either team or Argentina could feel the passion through their screens and sense the meaning of the occasion. Nothing was manufactured about this Superclasico Final, everything was organic. Although the match was hyped.

But why? The first answer is the sheer importance of football to Argentine society. Football is always in the discussion. Politics, entertainment, everything leads back to football. My mother often tells of her first day in school in 1965 when a girl asked every student who came in if they were a supporter of either River or Boca and the class was divided that way. 53 years later the rivalry is stronger than ever.

Another answer is that even though both Boca and River have nationwide and international followings, the rivalry stems from their birth together in the La Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires. River moved out to the posh area or Recoleta then on to the leafy suburburb on Nuñez, while Boca has never moved. For a derby match to truly be a derby, the clubs have to be from the same city. You need to go to work or school on Monday morning and hear it if your team loses. Sure, there are Barcelona fans in Madrid, but the true derby of that city is Atletico vs. Real.

The sense of history and the knowledgable fans is another reason. Every River fan knows the story of Norberto “Beto” ALONSO and his goals against Boca in 1986, famously scored with an orange ball brought by Boca goalkeeper Hugo GATTI. Meanwhile, every Boca fan knows the story about River’s collapse against Peñarol of Uruguay in the 1966 Copa Libetadores Final that led to the club earning the nickname of Gallinas or chickens. Boca fans will also never forget River’s historic relegation in 2011. That sense of history really tells the story. Fans, players, coaches, and directors know that what happens in El Monumental on the 24th of November will echo through eternity and truly never be forgotten. Fans have long memories in Argentina, stretching back generations even before they were born.

Perhaps the biggest reason however is the importance of the two clubs over everything else. It doesn’t matter what 22 players are on the pitch, what matters is that they represent Boc and River. I often felt that the worst thing to happen to the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry was the Cristiano RONALDO and Lionel MESSI era. Instead of being about the two clubs and their storied rivalry, it became about the two stars players, particularly as American television companies began marketing the match. They began to hype it like an NBA match where the two star players were bigger than the match.

That is why perhaps the best comparison in American sports is college football. Players come and go, staying for a maximum of four years, while both Boca and River have long become accustomed to selling their best to Europe after only a few seasons. Yet despite constant shifting and changing in terms of the roster, the club badges and colors mean the most. People jam pack La Bombonera and El Monumental every Sunday to see their clubs play, not to see a specific player. That is the magic in of football. How many NBA fans have traded their allegiances between Miami Heat, Cleavland Cavaliers, and LA Lakers, just to follow Lebron JAMES?

Sadly, this culture from the NBA of supporting an individual player over a club has infiltrated European football with the rivalry between Cristiano and MESSI. I’m sure many people traded in their white Real Madrid shirts with #7 on the back traded them in for the black and white stripes of Juventus with RONALDO’s transfer to the Turin giants. Twitter battles rage about who’s the best between the two players, not the clubs they play on.

Yet in Argentina, BENEDETTO or PRATTO, BARRIOS or PONZIO, GALLARDO or Barros SCHELOTTO are debates you will hear in bars or cafes throughout Buenos Aires, but always in the context of the Superclasico Rivalry: Boca or River? River or Boca? That is truly the only question on everyone’s mind.

21 Comments

  1. Infact it is the Best Rivalry in Sports. Argentine football seems to be back on track from outside. Looking at the Clubs performance in Copa Libe. Young talents r coming (It have always been) ,Well NT is another story. After years of mismanagement now we r suffering. We cant go back to old, We have to guide the Youth. First of all at least fix the Coach.

  2. So the argentine talent factory seems to have produced yet another upcoming superstar in the form of Thiago Almada. After scoring a brace the other day, he has impressed yet again yesterday with his skills and attacking prowess. Unfortunately he was unlucky not to score after hitting the post twice!

    He plays best as an attacking midfielder ( similar to Messi’s position) and is similarly built as the argentine magician. Best part of them all is he is still only 17 ! Kudos to heinze for giving him an early chance which is clearly paying off. I bet some european giants are already keeping close tabs on him and will be knocking the door real soon.

    • Almada was once again biggest treat of opponenets goal. Beatifull curl shoot from left corner of penalty kicks and more opportunities. Almada will not be another Messi but he might be one of the best and vital for NT.

      So bad Adolfo Gaich didn’t got any minutes in the match.

      Pedro De La Vega and Gonzalo Veron are other 17 years old gems in Superliga.

      • I agree Gonzalo. First they (i’m more attracted to the gameplay of Pedro De La Vega and Almada) need to be regulars in our U21 lineup before they can be promoted to the senior squad. I believe with their skills, form and maturity they’ve the ability to destroy any senior under 21 opponents. From their performances scaloni can then make his decision to call them up for the senior team.

        • We may add to the names also 18 years old Agustin Almendra who is not far from being starter for Boca (while some current starters will go to Europe soon) and 16 yo Matias Palacios from San Lorenzo.

          • oh yes they too. Thanks for the reminder Gonzalo al;though i’ve to admit that i’m still not too impressed with Almendra’s gameplay yet. Probably he’s still learning. Shouldn’t lose the ball too often.

    • BTW

      Everyone may see how shitty is this Whoscored ratings. Watching Velez San Lorenzo see clearly Almada was one of best players of Velez if not best along with Dominguez (Nico really deserved call up) but according to this stupid stats he was worst. Totall shit!

    • Argentina has always been a talent factory still trophy less since last 25 years , for that they blamed messi for that again they will find someother player to blame.
      Only 5 matches are left and scaloni is still experimenting , forget about copa america if he continues like this.
      Lots of other nations are performing better than argentina in limited optionts so most important is to build a squad with a proper tactics but it seems a challenging for scaloni becacause he has no idea of tactical footfall.

      • that’s an unpopular opinion here but I agree to an extent.

        Calling players isn’t that exciting when we’ve had great players all along. Folks acting as if new players is the end all solution to victory when we clearly had managerial issues all along. And so far, not only do we not know the starting XI and 23, but we still have not established an attacking identity. Instead of focusing on tactics, were still fiddling around with player selection. I fear our focus is lop sided on selection only but no one gives a shit about tactics. With only 5 games left, we should have a good idea of selection and identity and we have neither.

        The crazy experimental train that sampaoli started continues…

        We need to see tactical advances against Mexico or new manger needed.

        • Exactly everybody is just talking about this player that player, but we dont know who will start or how will they use them . Anyone can point out the players from europe or south america and call them, a good and smart manager has to show them the quality of football they play.
          PSG team full of stars still playing shit game.
          Liverpool average players but playing exciting game .
          So plz stop creating nonscence about this player and that players rather but a squad and start playing exciting and attractive football.
          Just like sampoli did with chile( dont get me wrong i am not praising , he was disaster with argentina)

        • “The crazy experimental train that sampaoli started continues…”

          This is what I meant when I said we should not keep calling on new players to replace another new player, What we have now is sufficient to pick the best possible 23 after Mexico matches.Or we will lose direction

          • Agreed and you raised a very good point about Battaglia the other day when everyone started calling for new faces. None of these players will do well if the merry-go-round continues (musical chairs probably better analogy). We have a plethora of players, time to focus on their integration and overall tactics. Besides, unless they are named Messi, I’m assuming each new face from here on out will improve team marginally.

  3. Hopefully the rivalry at super classic boost the spirit of Arg football especially the youngster and domestic players , it will be a wake up call for all the stakeholders to build a good N/T

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