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“The Game of the Century”: Boca vs. River, Copa Lib final

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) They’re calling it “The Game of the Century” and “The Final of all Soccer Finals.” They’re not wrong.

Think Celtics vs. Lakers, Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, and England vs. Scotland all rolled into one and you still might not be doing it justice.

The rivalry between Buenos Aires soccer teams Boca Juniors and River Plate ranks up there with the fiercest, most intense on the planet, and their regular “Superclasico” matchups create heated atmospheres that aren’t for the faint of heart.

The next two games, however, will be even more magnified than usual because the clubs will be facing each other in the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League.

“I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” said Gonzalo Rodriguez Peralta, a 45-year-old River fan who was given club membership by his late father when he was born. “There’s no explanation … you only understand it when you’re there.”

It’s the first time that Argentina’s two biggest teams will meet in the Copa Libertadores final. Boca has won the title six times since the tournament began in 1960, one behind Argentine club Independiente’s South American record of seven titles. River has won it three times.

“Boca and River have raised Argentine soccer where it has never been before,” Boca Juniors coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said. “Regardless of the outcome in these finals, we’ve put Argentine soccer at the highest level. Today, the whole world is talking about this final.”

The first leg will be played Saturday at Boca Juniors’ home stadium, an intimidating ground known as “La Bombonera” or “The Chocolate Box” for its tightly enclosed shape that looks like boxes stacked on top of each other. The second leg will be on Nov. 24 at River’s Monumental de Nunez Stadium, where Argentina won its first World Cup in 1978.

As is usual in recent years, visiting fans will not be allowed at either match because of the fear of violence. It’s been that way since 2013 and not even a plea from Argentine President Mauricio Macri, a former Boca president, could change that.

Argentina’s most successful teams originated in the docks of the southern working-class Buenos Aires neighborhood of La Boca and their rivalry dates back to the early 20th century.

Boca was founded by a group of Italian immigrants who chose the blue and yellow club colors after the flag of a Swedish ship that arrived in port. River, with its white shirt and diagonal red stripe, moved to a northern affluent neighborhood during the league’s beginnings. The derby’s gritty play, passionate fans and colorful celebrations was once ranked by British newspaper The Observer in its top spot of the 50 sporting things you must do before you die.

Some of history’s best players have come from Boca and River. Diego Maradona, who captained Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title, spent two stints at Boca and has his VIP seat reserved at the stadium. Playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme and prolific goal scorer Martin Palermo were part of a golden era when the club even beat all-mighty Real Madrid for the Intercontinental Cup in 2000.

River Plate takes pride in having produced world-class players like Alfredo Di Stefano, who began his career at the club and went on to win five European Cup titles with Real Madrid. Or Enzo Francescoli, an inspiration for France great Zinedine Zidane, who named one of his children after the Uruguayan forward.

Although it’s the first time Boca and River will play each other for the Copa Libertadores title, the teams have met in the South American competition three times previously. Boca won in the 2000 quarterfinals 4-2 on aggregate and in the 2004 semifinals on a penalty shootout. River won the 2015 round-of-16 match in 1-0 after tournament organizers eliminated Boca because of pepper spray spread by its fans in the second leg.

“No one can erase what has been done,” River coach Marcelo Gallardo said recently. “But now, it’s a whole new story, one more page in this book. It will be up to us to continue being part of this history.”

River is looking for its second Copa Liberatdores title in the last three years, a huge achievement considering the team was relegated to the second division in 2011 – a painful blow that triggered riots between police and fans.

Gallardo, a former River player, has restored River’s pride since taking over in 2014, winning several championships and last year’s Argentine Super Cup against Boca.

Of course, none of that matters to Boca Juniors.

“This is not one more game in the league. This is a final,” Barros Schelotto said. “The only thing in my mind is to try to win these two games.”

Both coaches have plenty to play for. Besides gaining iconic status among the legions of fans for each team, the winning coach also would improve his prospects of taking over Argentina’s national team.

Gallardo will be at a bit of a disadvantage, though. He will miss the first match after being sanctioned by South American soccer’s governing body for failing to follow a previous suspension that banned him from contacting his players during the semifinals.

On the field, Boca’s best-known player is forward Carlos Tevez, who appeared in two World Cups for Argentina and previously played for clubs including Juventus, Manchester United and Manchester City. But these days, the team depends on striker Dario Benedetto, whose goals helped the club reach the final.

River striker Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez could be the one to watch on the other side. He scored in the last two matches against Boca and is expected to return after recovering from the flu. Other key players include midfielder Juan Quintero and Franco Armani, who is considered one of the best goalkeepers in Latin America.

“The pressure is very high because the public is following closely and the result will matter to them. It will be remembered for many years because it is a unique final,” said Oscar Mangione, a sports psychologist who has worked with Boca but is a devoted River fan. “It now depends on the players, on the coaches and how they deal with that pressure.”

The pressure, the history, the animosity: No one in Argentina seems to be talking about anything else.

“We’re living a unique moment,” Boca captain Pablo Perez said, “first because it’s a final, and second because it’s against River.”

Wolves striker Jimenez headlines young El Tri squad

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Interim Mexico National Team boss has selected a young squad ahead of a rare pair of friendly matches set to be held this month in Mexico. The El Tri selection features a mix of European and domestic-based players, headlined by Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Raul Jimenez and PSV Eindhoven’s Hirving Lozano. But the squad is also noteworthy for who isn’t included.

El Tri regulars Hector Herrera, Javier Aquino, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa, Hector Moreno and Carlos Salcedo were all left off the squad, in addition to the MLS-based big names including Carlos Vela, Giovani Dos Santos and his brother Jonathan. Jonathan Dos Santos was called up for El Tri’s last camp in September but neither Vela (inconsistent play) or Giovani (injuries) have been selected since the World Cup.

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With so many veterans missing, it’s a chance for some fresh blood to rejuvinate the squad. While Club America youngster Diego Lainez was not called up this window, a trio of uncapped players with extensive youth national team experience are in the squad: goalkeepers Gibran Lajud (Club Tijuana) and Raul Gudino (Chivas) and defender Josecarlos Van Rankin (Chivas). Jonathan Gonzalez, after sitting out El Tri’s last match against the U.S. Men’s National Team, is also back in the squad.

Jimenez, who featured for Mexico at the World Cup, has two goals and two assists in seven games for Wolves so far this season, delighting the crowd at the Molineux during matches as the Wolves’ No. 9. Jimenez received Man of the Match honors in his last two matches, a 1-1 draw at Manchester United and a 2-0 win against Southampton.

Mexico hosts Costa Rica on October 13 in Monterrey before facing Chile in Queretaro on October 16.

Suarez brace to beat Mexico includes handsome free kick

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If you were disappointed by the Christian Pulisic-less USMNT falling 2-0 to Brazil on Saturday, take solace that you’re not a Mexican fan.

Mexico fell 4-1 to Uruguay in their first match of the post-Juan Carlos Osorio era, a 1-1 draw degrading into a blowout via a pair of Luis Suarez goals.

[ MORE: Man Utd scouting El Tri mid ]

He’s known for power — and there’s a fair bit of that — but this one was art. The eventual game-winner was a swooping free kick around the wall that ducked inside the near post.

You can see Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa wanting to trust his wall but knowing where Suarez was headed with his effort. That and three dollars will get you a few lottery tickets.

Brazil battle past Mexico as Neymar stars

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  • Brazil has never lost to Mexico at World Cup (scoring 13 goals, conceding 0)
  • Seventh-straight World Cup quarterfinal for Brazil
  • Mexico out at last 16 round in seven-straight World Cups

Brazil beat Mexico 2-0 in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup on Monday in Samara, with the five-time champions battling past a stubborn El Tri side.

Neymar scored one and assisted Roberto Firmino for the other as Mexico ran out of steam after a fine first half performance.

Brazil will play the winner of Belgium v Japan in Kazan on Friday in the quarterfinal.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Mexico started the game superbly as a cross from Andres Guardado on the left was only half cleared by Alisson and Lozano’s shot was blocked.

El Tri continued to threaten on the break and Carlos Vela was enjoying plenty of the ball on the left, as that set up another chance but Hector Herrera’s shot was blocked.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Brazil finally got going in the first half as Neymar cut in from the left and his shot was smothered by Guillermo Ochoa at the near post. Soon after both Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho got shots off but Brazil were second best as the half time whistle blew.

Jesus then danced through Mexico’s defense but his shot was saved by Ochoa and then another effort was blocked by the El Tri defense. Neymar went down theatrically to win a free kick but he curled the resulting free kick way over.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

At half time 39-year-old Rafael Marquez came off and Miguel Layun replaced him in a reshuffled for Juan Carlos Osorio as Layun went to right back and Edson Alvarez moved into holding midfield.

Ochoa saved well from Coutinho as the playmaker was allowed to dribble inside easily from a corner kick and get a shot off. Then on the break Jesus Gallardo then drove forward and then curled inches over with Lozano free on his right.

Neymar scored the opener after fantastic work from Willian who turned on the jets to glide past his marker and then cross to the back post for Brazil’s talisman to tap home.

Paulinho then forced Ochoa into a fine stop at the near post as he curled in a powerful effort, while Casemiro was then booked, meaning he will miss Brazil’s World Cup quarterfinal.

On the break Raul Jimenez, on as a sub for Javier Hernandez, played in Lozano who found Vela and his shot was pushed over by Alisson. Ochoa then tipped over brilliantly from Willian’s shot as Brazil pushed hard to get the killer second goal late on.

Neymar received plenty of rough challenges from Mexico’s players throughout, despite some embellishment, and Layun was shown stepping on him on the sidelines but no VAR review was sanctioned.

Brazil’s star man had the last laugh as he ran free down the left and his shot was saved by Ochoa but substitute Firmino tapped home to wrap up the 2-0 win and the Selecao into the last eight.

WATCH: Brazil, Mexico level in tense last 16 clash

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Mexico and Brazil is going at it in their last 16 clash.

El Tri came flying out of the traps with Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela causing plenty of problems out wide, while Brazil then dragged themselves back into the game with Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus having chances.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

A tight, tense, end-to-end encounter is playing out in the scorching conditions in Samara, with Brazil up against it to make the quarterfinals as Mexico have looked more than comfortable against the five-time World Cup champions.

Can Guillermo Ochoa shut out Neymar? Will Lozano and Co. catch Brazil on the break?

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]