Boca Juniors beat Cruzeiro as Dede sent off; Independiente, River Plate draw
On Tuesday night the quarterfinal first legs of the Copa Libertadores got underway with a 2-0 win for a Brazilian club over opposition from Argentina, in a game where a VAR-induced red card had a significant impact.
On Wednesday the exact opposite took place. This time with much more controversy.
In Gremio's 2-0 triumph away to Atletico Tucuman, there was little doubt that Tucuman's Gervesio Nunez deserved his red card after the video ref caught him stamping on an opponent. But in the 2-0 win of Boca Juniors over Cruzeiro, the sending off of centre-back Dede is much less clear cut.
There is little doubt, though, that Boca were the better side, and that in a tight game they were well worthy of their 1-0 lead. The goal came after Cruzeiro had problems clearing a corner, and Mauro Zarate played an intelligent return of passes at the far post with Pablo Perez before flicking his shot beyond the keeper.
Boca may well have built up a bigger advantage had it not been for Dede. The giant centre-back's return from injury has been a heartwarming story. Dede spent four years battling a succession of knee problems. But his comeback in the last few months has been so impressive that he came close to making Brazil's World Cup squad, and was recalled to the national team for the friendlies earlier this month.
Against Boca he was winning the aerial duels, displaying pace across the ground and timing his tackles well. But with just over 15 minutes to go he went upfield for a corner. Boca keeper Esteban Andrada came out to punch, and Dede clattered into him.
The collision left Andrada a bloodied mess. But it seemed entirely accidental, one of those clash of heads which are an unfortunate part of the game. Paraguayan referee Eber Aquino was alerted by his VAR colleague, had a long look at the images and reached for the red card. It came across as an extraordinarily harsh decision. Boca's players had not pressured for punishment. And it had an impact on the rest of the game.
Cruzeiro failed to deal with a cross in the very sector in which Dede had been excelling, and Perez took advantage to blast home and double Boca's first leg lead. The Brazilians played a cautious game, hoping that their moment would come to snatch a precious away goal.
It so nearly came early in the second half. Cruzeiro started to pose more of a threat when the rapid Rafinha was moved across to the right flank. He was slipped behind the defensive line and slipped his shot past the keeper -- only for Wilmar Barrios to appear from nowhere and scoop the ball off the line.
Barrios gave a man of the match performance, and it is a genuine surprise that the Colombian international midfielder has not made the move to Europe. He is the most important player in the Boca side. The squad contains sufficient attacking strength to leave Carlos Tevez and the Colombian international pair of Edwin Cardona and Sebastian Villa on the bench. Their defensive resources are not so deep, and, like a Javier Mascherano of old, Barrios does a tigerish job protecting his back line.
Boca will look for another big performance from him when they protect their lead in Belo Horizonte in two weeks' time.
A fortnight from now the deadlock will have to be broken somehow in the all-Argentine clash between Independiente and River Plate, who played out a goalless draw in the night's first match. This was River's fifth consecutive clean sheet in the competition and Independiente's fourth, and so perhaps a stalemate was predictable.
But this was an attractive 0-0 draw in which both sides came close to scoring. It was an intriguing clash between two domestically based coaches who are being linked with the national team job. The first half belonged to River's Marcelo Gallardo, and the second to Independiente's Ariel Holan. River began with a formation where they split their strikers. The movement behind the line of Rafael Santos Borre caused problems, while Lucas Pratto dropped back, allowing the team to line up in a 4-1-4-1, keeping Independiente back and always posing the threat that playmaker Juan Fernando Quintero could find holes in the home defence.
But at the interval Holan switched formations, adding an extra centre-back. It may have seemed a more defensive move. In fact, though, it was the opposite. Holan has a background in field hockey, and seeks to bring the dynamism of that sport to the football field. At its best, his team attack at pace in clusters -- and it was Gaston Silva, his third centre-back, who led a charge and smacked his shot against the post -- the second time in the match that Independiente struck the woodwork.
Gallardo was forced to make a change, sacrificing Quintero for the midfield industry of Camilo Mayada. Straight away, Independiente came close again, World cup goalkeeper Franco Armani producing a marvellous save to deny Emmanuel Gigloitti. The hosts, then, were destined not to score, and almost conceded on the counter attack as they over-reached in search of the elusive goal.
The teams will try again on Oct. 2nd.