River Plate Copa Libertadores Champions . Getty Images
Getty Images

River Plate battled back to beat arch Argentine rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in extra-time in an unforgettable and unique Copa Libertadores final match second leg.

The match was played in Madrid after violence had seen the original game postponed.

Dario Benedetto put Boca Juniors ahead at the end of a bruising first half at a raucous Santiago Bernabeu stadium which was equally split between supporters of the two teams.

But the game witnessed barely a hint of crowd trouble.

However, River Plate who also came back twice in the 2-2 draw in the first leg at Boca Juniors’ Bombonera stadium, levelled in the 68th minute.

They scored through striker Lucas Pratto after a superb team move.

River Plate, whose coach Marcelo Gallardo was banned from the sidelines, were given a huge advantage when Boca Juniors’ Colombian midfielder Wilmar Barrios was sent off.

They seized this advantage which came in the third minute of extra-time through a sizzling strike from his compatriot Juan Fernando Quintero in the 109th minute.

Gonzalo Martinez sealed victory, 5-3 on aggregate, at the death with a tap in after Boca Juniors’ entire team had poured forward in search of an equaliser.

It gave River Plate a fourth Copa Libertadores title and denied Boca Juniors a record-equalling seventh.

“I didn’t think about it,” Quintero said of his goal. “Camilo (Mayada) passed it to me and I looked for space and then hit it. It was a lovely goal and you have to celebrate it.”

Martinez added: “We were the only team out there that tried to win. We played the whole match in their half of the field.”

River Plate’s victory means they will represent South America in the FIFA Club World Cup which kicks off on Wednesday in the United Arab Emirates.

It also guarantees them bragging rights over their neighbours for many years to come.

The club are expected to fly directly to the Middle East but striker Lucas Pratto said the players would take some time to celebrate before their first match on Dec. 18.

“We want to enjoy this because I don’t think we’ll win another Cup against Boca like this,” said Pratto.

The game was controversially moved 10,000 kilometres away from River’s Monumental Stadium to Madrid as Boca Juniors’ team bus had been ambushed before the originally scheduled game.

This left several Boca Juniors’ players injured from the impact of the smashed windows and from tear gas which had been fired by police.

It meant that instead of a home game with the exclusive presence of River Plate supporters, Real Madrid’s Bernabeu was equally divided between fans of both sides.

Also, it showed a highly unusual situation in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.

The final was the first in the 58 years of the competition to be played outside of Latin America and the first between Argentina’s two biggest clubs.

It provoked furious protests from both clubs, their fans and leading figures in Argentine football.

Luis Cesar Menotti, Argentina’s 1978 World Cup-winning coach, called the switch “an aberration”.

River Plate decried the loss of home advantage Boca Juniors had enjoyed in the first leg, while Boca Juniors claimed they should have been awarded the trophy by default.

They pointed at when they were thrown out of the competition in 2015 when River Plate players were attacked with pepper spray at halftime.

There was also a deep sense of irony at the fact a competition named in honour of the liberators of south America was to be played in the home of their former rulers.

In spite of the controversy, a total of 10,000 fans made the long journey over from Argentina for the occasion.

The nation’s considerable expatriate communities across Europe (250,000 reside in Spain alone) also flooded into the Spanish capital, creating a carnival atmosphere that was mostly cordial.

The VIP box was stuffed with the biggest names in the game, from FC Barcelona captain Lionel Messi to Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone.

There was also forward Antoine Griezmann, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Real Madrid chief Florentino Perez.

Spanish police had mounted the biggest ever security operation for a football match in the country, deploying over 4,000 personnel including more than 2,000 police officers.

The security costs were countered by a considerable windfall for the city, which local government officials put at an estimated minimum 55 million euros.

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