Sports

Copa Libertadores: South America’s biggest competition nears climax

on

Spread the love

Flamengo celebrate winning the 2019 Copa Libertadores
Flamengo came from a goal down to beat River Plate 2-1 in the 2019 final

Can River Plate make amends? Will Boca Juniors do it for Diego Maradona? The end of a long wait for Palmeiras? Or could this be Santos’ year?

The Copa Libertadores, South America’s biggest club football competition, is nearing its much-anticipated climax – and you will be able to watch live on the BBC.

The semi-final first legs take place on Wednesday 6 January, with the second legs the following week and the final on 30 January at the famous Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The semis serve up two meetings between Brazilian and Argentine teams, with all four clubs originating from Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo.

The 2020 Copa Libertadores started last January, but the group stages were halted in March because of the coronavirus pandemic and did not resume until September.

Boca look to honour Maradona

Six-time winners Boca Juniors will hope to pay tribute to former player Diego Maradona by winning their first title since 2007.

It is a fourth semi-final in five years for Boca, one of the competition’s most decorated sides.

Maradona enjoyed two spells and finished his career at Boca, who could once again face fierce rivals River Plate in the final.

The famous Buenos Aires clubs met in the final for the first time in 58 years in 2018.

The fixture was postponed after Boca’s team bus was attacked by River fans, before being moved 6,000 miles from Buenos Aires to Madrid, where River won 5-3 on aggregate.

Brazilian side Santos, who claimed an impressive 5-2 aggregate win over Gremio in the quarter-final, stand in the way of a Boca side captained by former Manchester United and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez.

It was at Santos that Brazil legend Pele registered a goalscoring record at a single club – a record broken by Lionel Messi when he scored his 644th Barcelona goal in December – but they have not won the Copa Libertadores since 2011.

Can River Plate recover from dramatic defeat?

River suffered a devastating last-minute defeat in the 2019 final.

Gabriel Barbosa scored twice in a dramatic final five minutes as Flamengo – knocked out in the last 16 this time around – came from a goal down to win 2-1 and deny River back-to-back titles.

Four-time winners River, whose most recent triumph was in 2018, have, like Boca, recently lost a prominent former player in Alejandro Sabella. He died last month, two weeks after Maradona.

An ex-Argentina international who played for Leeds and Sheffield United, Sabella also led his country to the final of the 2014 World Cup as a manager.

Marcelo Gallardo’s River side will have to overcome Brazil’s Palmeiras to reach the final.

1999 champions Palmeiras, who have reached the final four times, beat Paraguay’s Libertad 4-1 on aggregate to reach the last four.

Can Palmeiras move a step closer to ending a two-decade wait for a second title? It will be a tough ask against a River outfit that thrashed Nacional 8-2 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.

How to watch on the BBC

You can follow the Copa Libertadores semi-finals live on the BBC Sport website, iPlayer and via the Red Button at the following times:

Wednesday 6 January – semi-final first legs

River Plate v Palmeiras (00:20-02:30 GMT)

Boca Juniors v Santos (22:05-00:15)

Tuesday 12 January – semi-final second legs

Palmeiras v River Plate (00:30)

Santos v Boca Juniors (22:15)

About Frank Rideout