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Copa Libertadores final, Boca vs. River Plate postponed

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The first leg of the eagerly anticipated Copa Libertadores final between bitter rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate at La Bombonera on Saturday has been postponed due to heavy rain and an unplayable pitch.

Torrential rain in Buenos Aires saw the pitch at Boca’s stadium take on huge amounts of water, as CONMEBOL took the decision to postpone the match.

“The final of the Copa Libertadores between Boca Juniors and River Plate has been suspended due to heavy rain in Buenos Aires.”

It has now been confirmed that the game will take place on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

The flooding in Argentina’s capital city was widespread, and below is a look at the pitch just a few hours before kick off.


“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.”

Copa Lib: River Plate, Boca Juniors set for Superclasico finals

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SAO PAULO (AP) River Plate of Argentina reached the final of the South American cup on Tuesday after shocking defending champion Gremio of Brazil, setting up a possible championship match between two Argentinian teams in the Copa Libertadores for the first time in history.

[ MORE: Roberto Martinez the new front runner for Real Madrid job ]

River beat the Brazilians 2-1 in Porto Alegre and advanced on the away goals rule to its first South American final since 2015. Last week, River lost 1-0 to Gremio in Buenos Aires.

Midfielder Pity Martinez scored the decisive goal in stoppage time after the referee awarded River a penalty following a video review that confirmed a handball by defender Matheus Bressan.

Leonardo scored for Gremio in the 36th minute and had a clear chance with Everton squandering an opportunity face to face against goalkeeper Franco Armani to make it 2-0 for the hosts at 66 minutes.

But River tied it in the 81st minute with a header by Colombian striker Rafael Borre, after a cross by Martinez, putting more pressure on the defending champions. After the match Gremio players said that goal should have been disallowed because of a Borre handball.

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“We were the only team on the pitch in the first half. They only had long balls. We had power and strategy. That’s why other teams respect us,” Martinez said.

River’s adversary in its quest for a fourth Copa Libertadores title will be known on Wednesday, when Boca Juniors defends its 2-0 first-leg victory against Brazil’s Palmeiras, coached by World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari.

If Boca survives, it will play its arch-rival in the final for the first time. Never before have two Argentinian clubs played for the Copa Libertadores.

River’s victory came amid some controversy. Footage at Arena do Gremio showed coach Marcelo Gallardo entering his team’s locker room at halftime despite his suspension for the game.

“Come, come, take a good picture,” Gallardo told journalists as he left the locker room. The coach was suspended for one game by South America’s soccer body because of constant delays by his team to return to the pitch after the first 45 minutes of several matches.

[ MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Which home side is safest? ]

Coaching assistant Matias Biscay, who replaced Gallardo, said the coach convinced River players they could turn the tables during the halftime talk when the score was 1-0 for the Brazilians.

“The players saw they could come back, even before they entered the locker room. Marcelo convinced they this win could not escape,” Biscay said in a press conference.

Gremio coach Renato Portaluppi said his team was “robbed” by the VAR referee, but not because of the penalty awarded to the Argentinians. He believes River’s Borre intentionally touched the ball with the hand as he scored River’s first goal.

“I would rather lose 5-0 than lose it like this. I can’t blame the referee on the pitch, but I can blame the VAR referee,” Portaluppi said. “Who was taking care of VAR? Was it Stevie Wonder? Everyone else saw it.”

Gremio goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe said the VAR decision wasn’t to blame for the loss.

“We didn’t take enough care. VAR is fair. If the referee said it is a penalty, it is a penalty,” Grohe said.

The Copa Libertadores finals will be played on Nov. 7 and 28.

Reports: Atlanta seals deal for Pity Martinez, will head to club Jan. 1

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Atlanta United is still sorting out its Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup runs, but 2019 is also coming into focus.

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Reports say that Argentine winger Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will indeed be the star Atlanta signs to offset to presumed sale of Miguel Almiron, who may be moving to Arsenal amongst several rumored European clubs.

Multiple reports say the Five Stripes’ pursuit of Martinez has paid off, with the River Plate man ready to bring his flashy game to Georgia.

Martinez has 25 goals and 23 assists in 136 matches, and will reportedly cost Atlanta around $17.2 million. TNT Los Angeles says the move will happen January 1.

Martinez debuted for Argentina’s senior national team last month, and scored on debut against Guatemala. He ticks all the boxes for technical director Carlos Bocanegra and president Darren Eales.

Reports: Atlanta eyes River Plate star as Almiron replacement (video)

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One of the more intriguing questions in Major League Soccer is what will Atlanta United do with the impending windfall that will arrive following the presumed sale of Miguel Almiron.

Almiron, 25, is looking for a European adventure in 2019 and has no shortage of suitors. He’ll net a significant fee, likely an MLS record.

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Multiple reports say the Five Stripes are looking at Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, the 25-year-old Argentine playmaker with two caps for the Albiceleste. One report claims the move is “very close,” while The Athletic reports there is “still a lot to do” for the move to happen.

According to Transfermarkt, Martinez’s transfer value is about $5 million more than Almiron.

It’s not quite like-for-like, as Martinez is a more prolific finisher at the club level than Almiron was when he joined Atlanta.

Almiron scored nine times between 74 matches between Lanus and Cerro Porteno, while Martinez has 30 goals in 184 matches at a higher level with Huracan and River Plate (Lanus and both of Martinez’s clubs play in Argentina, while Cerro Porteno is in Almiron’s native Paraguay).

Tata Martino is expected to leave Atlanta, but perhaps this means that either the manager could be open to return or that United is eyeing another free-flowing, attack-minded boss.