The battle for South American supremacy kicks off tonight.
The Copa Libertadores final gets underway at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, with the first leg between Boca Juniors and Corinthians (8:30 p.m., Fox Deportes) as both teams aim to secure the presitigious trophy while reserving a place at December’s FIFA Club World Cup along with the likes of Chelsea and Monterrey. The return leg is slated for July 4 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The experience factor on this stage is the biggest discrepancy between the two sides. Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s most storied clubs, will be going for a record-tying seventh Copa Libertadores title and first since 2007, while Corinthians is in the final for the first time.
There’s nothing cheap about how each team progressed to the final, though. Boca Juniors turned in a strong group stage and overcame the best overall team in the group stage, Fluminense (which happened to win Boca’s group) in the knockout round en route to the title round. Boca have not lost in their last 10 Libertadores matches, going 8-0-2 in that span.
Corinthians, meanwhile, got by fellow Brazilian sides Vasco de Gama and Santos to reach the final, eliminating Neymar and the defending champions in the semifinals. Corinthians have conceded just three goals all tournament, while scoring 19 of their own in 12 matches.
Here is a closer look at the Copa Libertadores finalists:
HOW THEY GOT HERE
BOCA JUNIORS (Argentina)
Group stage: 4-1-1, 13 points, second place in Group 4 behind Fluminense
Knockout stage: Beat Union Espanola, Fluminense and Universidad de Chile
Key player: Juan Roman Riquelme. The 34-year-old Argentine playmaker and former national team staple continues to perform at a high level and is the fulcrum of Boca’s attack.
Group stage: 4-0-2, 14 points, first place in Group 6
Knockout stage: Beat Emelec, Vasco de Gama and Santos
Key player: Paulinho. The two-way, 23-year-old midfielder is attracting interest from top European teams and is a rock in the center, partnering with Ralf to form as impenetrable a midfield tandem as there is in the tournament field.
Who do you see winning the Copa Libertadores? What do you think will be the difference between the two sides? Think either could give Chelsea a problem at the Club World Cup?
Share your thoughts below.