Boca vs River: Why Copa Sudamericana clash could be match of the decade

El Gráfico's Martin Mazur looks ahead to the biggest game in Argentina - rated the best derby in world football in the latest issue of FourFourTwo...

Billed as


  • Arsenal 1-1 Boca (Lge)
  • Boca 2-0 Tigre (Lge)
  • Cerro Porteño 1-4 Boca (Cup)
  • San Lorenzo 2-0 Boca (Lge)
  • Boca 1-0 Cerro Porteño (Cup)


  • River 1-1 Olimpo (Lge)
  • River 0-1 Estudiantes (Lge)
  • Vélez 1-1 River (Lge)
  • River 3-2 Estudiantes (Cup)
  • Estudiantes 1-2 River (Cup)

“The world's biggest derby” – as decided by FourFourTwo in this month’s edition. If the Superclásico is usually seen as the game of the year, when it takes place in an international competition – in this case the Copa Sudamericana semi-final – it has the potential to be remembered as the match of the decade.

The lowdown

Originally neighbours from the vivacious La Boca barrio (or the republic of La Boca, as some mad Italians anarchists self-proclaimed), the Boca vs River derby quickly turned into something bigger: upper class against lower class, aristocracy versus the rest of the people.

After only a handful of games it had already become Argentina’s biggest football match by the 1920s, attracting thousands of spectators in every game, including pitch invasions and bust-ups. Years later, River had already found tons of money to move away to the posh Recoleta, thus becoming Los Millonarios. Boca relied on their Italian identity; stamina, character and hard work.

The two arch rivals established a distinctive profile: River dominated the local tournaments, produced their stars in the academy and imposed sexy football; Boca were obsessed with international competitions, bought their best players from other clubs and taught them to play under La Bombonera’s regime: pressing, passion, tough tackling and a never-say-never attitude.

Few things have changed in the last 60 years. River were relegated for the first time in their history in 2011, but won promotion a year later and are now on the verge of winning their second consecutive title.

Their new manager Marcelo Gallardo, an admirer of Pep Guardiola, succeeded in reinstalling the traditional River style with a team that respects the club’s DNA, featuring Teo Gutierrez and Carlos Sanchez as notable players, plus a handful of youngsters (Gio Simeone, Lucas Boye, Guido Rodriguez and Tomas Martinez).

For both sets of fans, this is the true final

Boca are still mourning the departure of their last (and all-time) idol, Juan Roman Riquelme, in a season that started on the wrong foot, as another club legend, Carlos Bianchi, was sacked over a string of bad results.

Since the arrival of Rodolfo Arruabarrena, things have changed rather quickly: a new 4-2-3-1 system that mutates into a 4-3-3, new players for the first team (César Meli, Nicolás Colazo, Adrián Cubas, Jonathan Calleri and Andrés Chavez). More importantly, there's a new attitude aligned with Boca’s history of garra, the grit and guts that allow them to win in an uphill struggle.

With the team crawling three months ago, nobody was thinking of an end-of-year semi-final in the Sudamericana, with the chance of sending River home once again – as in 1994 (Supercopa semi-finals, on penalties), 2000 (Libertadores quarter-finals) and 2004 (Libertadores semi-finals, on penalties).

“It’d be stupid to think that we’re trying just to save the season by defeating them,” declared Arruabarrena. “It’s a semi-final and it deserves our full attention, no matter what the opposition.” Still, nobody has the idea of who they might be playing against if they advance to the final. The real one is beating River.

For security reasons, only home fans are allowed to attend both games. Just as it happens in South American qualifiers, there will be a war atmosphere between two different countries. Countries, yes. That’s what Boca and River feel and, in the end, that’s what they are.

Player to watch: Andres Chavez (Boca)

The former Banfield striker arrived this season and became an instant hit after the arrival of Arruabarrena, who deployed him outside the box to take advantage of his speed. Starting mainly from the left, the 28-year-old is incredibly quick on counter-attacks, and his ferocious shots are a constant danger.


  • River 1-1 Boca (Lge, Oct 14)
  • Boca 1-1 River (Fr, Jun 14)
  • Boca 1-2 River (Lge, Mar 14)
  • Boca 1-2 River (Fr, Feb 14)
  • Boca 0-2 River (Fr, Jan 14)

The managers

The two former players were main characters of Superclásicos during the 1990s and early 2000s. Gallardo (a former No.10) scored in the 1994 3-0 victory and Arruabarrena (left-back) netted one in the 3-2 of Clausura 1998. Expect chants, witty banners and missiles for Gallardo at La Bombonera: 10 years ago, he famously scratched Roberto Abbondanzieri’s face during a bust-up in the Libertadores thriller that ended with Boca celebrating at the Monumental.

Gallardo enjoyed three separate spells with River as a player between 1993 and 2010

FourFourTwo prediction

Boca 2-1 River. A tough game, but Boca will celebrate the victory. River, however, will grab the away goal that can allow them to go through with a 1-0 victory at home next Thursday.