Riquelme Leads Boca To Copa Libertadores Finals
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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Riquelme Leads Boca To Copa Libertadores Finals

Juan Roman Riquelme was in stunning form Thursday night as he led Boca Juniors to a 3-0 victory over Colombia's Cucuta. The victory sends Boca to the Copa Libertadores Finals with a 4-3 aggregate win.

Boca trailed 3-1 going into the night and as expected immediately took the play to the visitors.

And early on, it looked as though Boca would be rewarded as they dominated, but Cucuta keeper Robinson Zapata kept the visitor's hopes alive, making numerous acrobatic saves, including a point-blank shot from Rodrigo Palacio.

In the 7th minute, Zapata even made two world-class saves on one play. The first, a stunning kick save on a Riquelme header. The second, a wonderful block of a Palacio header from just inches away.

But Zapata would finally prove human in the 44th minute, and it would be Riquelme who would be his undoing.

Boca earned a free kick just outside the area and La Bombonera was rocking as the home crowd seem to smell blood with their returning hero standing over the dead ball.

The former Argentine international didn't disappoint, curling an absolutely brilliant strike over the wall into the top corner for the 1-0 lead.

A crushing blow for a Colombian side that was just seconds from going into the break even.

And after the interval, Boca went right back to work, almost scoring within seconds of the restart as Hugo Ibarra fired a rocket that was deflected wide.

The reprieve for Cucuta was short-lived and nine minutes into the second half, Boca finally had the scoreline they needed to advance when Martin Palermo bundled a wild deflection across the line.

But what was a thrilling match, again, suddenly ground to halt.

Previously, there had been a five minute stoppage, as the fog that had enveloped the pitch for most of the evening completely took over.

Now, a second interruption, one far more bothersome, as keeper Zapata was hit with projectiles from the stands for the second time on the night. Pleas from Boca players to supporters did seem to put an end to the barrage.

The breaks however, seemed to do little to dampen the Boca enthusiasm and the Argentine side's domination continued as they looked to kill off the tie.

And with only a minute plus stoppage remaining, it was Riquelme who would again provide the drama.

The hometown favorite stepped up to take a corner, and like a scene out of a movie, with flashbulbs popping, the Boca talisman rifled a deadly cross into the box that substitute Sebastian Battaglia headed into the far corner passed a diving Zapata.

Battaglia, also in his second stint at Boca, raced dramatically to Riquelme and the two slid into an embrace before being mobbed by their teammates as La Bombonera shook.

A whopping ten minutes of added time saw Cucuta press for the equalizer that would never come.

But even stoppage time was not without drama as a late penalty claim went unheeded as it appeared Boca keeper Mauricio Caranta was first to a loose ball before bringing down Leonard Pajoy in the box.

At the final whistle, Boca looked anything but the jaded favorites they might justifiably be.

Rather, Boca players celebrated wildly with Riquelme appropriately in the center of the jubilation.

For unfancied Cucuta, a tournament well-played and respect.

For Boca Juniors, another date with destiny in the Copa Libertadores Finals.

On the web:
Boca Juniors reaches Copa Lib final - AP - FoxSoccer.com

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