The first leg of the Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate was chock-full of entertainment.
A quickfire exchange of goals between Ramon Abila and Lucas Pratto set things up nicely in a game which many feared would be tight and low-scoring, before first-half substitute Diego Benedetto restored the home side’s lead.
Both sides had chances to add to their tally, but it was a Carlos Izquierdoz own goal that ensured the game ended level going into the second leg at El Monumentál. We were even treated to a late cameo from Carlos Tevez, in what we imaging will be one of his last ever games in a Boca shirt.
And yet, despite all of that excitement, it felt like there was something missing. Where was the violence we were promised? Where was the fighting? Where was the blood?
The previous meeting between the two clubs featured seven yellow cards. The one before that had eight, while the first saw another seven shown, including two for Boca’s Julio Buffarini.
The two league meetings in 2017, brought a total of 22 cards, two of them straight reds. To call the fixture fiery is an understatement, and that’s just in the league: when a trophy is at stake, in the last ever two-legged Copa Libertadores final no less, we’ve come to expect a great deal more.
This was supposed to be the game where nothing was left on the line; where players would go flying into challenges with the ball not just an afterthought but an afterthought of an afterthought.
We even heard talk before the game of a special broadcast for fans with heart conditions, for fear a frenetic and bad-tempered tie could trigger something.
And yet we had to wait more than 90 minutes for the card count to even hit six, with Tevez going into the book for breaking up a counterattack. So much for reality meeting expectations.
So, what’s to blame for this unexpected turn of events? We were about to suggest the two teams might have been consciously trying to give fans a good impression of Argentinean football; to show that the sport is not just about violence and emotion, but that there’s also plenty of quality football on show. After all, these are two of the most famous teams on the continent, not to mention two of the best.
That feels preposterous, though.
They know just as well as anyone else that the people paid for blood, and blood is what they deserve.
We also considered the 24-hour delay to the first leg, caused by weather conditions making the pitch unplayable, could have made the game more tentative than planned. It’s as if the delay served as a warning to those involved, so they were reluctant to go full-throttle out of pure superstition. Again, a possible explanation, but an unlikely one all the same.
Our only hope, and it is a firm one, is that all the players involved have been saving themselves for the second leg.
If most of the eyes of the world were on the rivals at La Bombonera, that’s even more true of the return leg at El Monumentál, so it’s time to give the people what they want, nay, what they need.
You know what that means: chest-high tackles; punches which wouldn’t look out of place in the ring; 22-man brawls; literal blood, sweat and tears.
If we get another four-goal thriller in the return, we’ll take it, but we won’t be happy. If we get a goalless draw with only a couple of shots, but with a punch-up including one or both goalkeepers, we’ll know we got our money’s worth.
Next year’s Copa Libertadores final, and all those thereafter, will be a one-legged affair. We’re pretty sure the loss of a limb from one year to the next will only be figurative.