So much has been said and written about this year’s final of the Copa Libertadores.
However, the football itself has taken a back seat to the reports of violence, corruption, incompetence and business interests which have ultimately seen the second match between River Plate and Boca Juniors moved from Buenos Aires to Madrid.
But behind that series of sorry and shameful episodes, there is still a match to take place and even though it will be played in Spain and not Argentina, it is one of the great derbies in world football. Probably the biggest of them all, in fact.
And while it seems like an age ago now, it is worth remembering that these two teams played out a hugely entertaining 2-2 in the first leg of this final at La Bombonera back in early November, when Boca twice took the lead and River responded on both occasions to set up an exciting second game, in which there will be no advantage for away goals.
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That makes this second leg effectively a one-off final and in it, there will be a number of exciting young players on show who, as well as a shot at winning South America’s biggest club competition, will also have the chance to be seen on a huge stage which could possibly lead to a move to Europe in future. Here is a look at three from each team…
Lucas Martinez Quarta | Defender | 22 years old
A central defender with maturity beyond his years, Martinez Quarta made his debut for River Plate as a 20-year-old in November 2016 and is a player greatly admired by coach Marcelo Gallardo.
The youngster spent seven months on the sidelines after that following a controversial positive doping test in the Copa Libertaodres last year, but has maintained his innocence and is now back in the team.
While he was out, River turned down a €5 million bid from Sampdoria for the defender, who can also play in midfield, and he has recently signed a new contract with a release clause set at just below €20m.
Gonzalo Montiel | Defender | 21 years old
A year younger than Martinez Quarta, Montiel is also impressing in defence for River Plate. The right-back made his debut in 2016 and has gone on establish himself in Gallardo’s side.
He also started the first leg against Boca and completed the 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw at La Bombonera. And in Argentina, there is talk that he will be handed an international debut soon by coach Lionel Scaloni.
His good form has not gone unnoticed outside Argentina, either, with reports in Spain linking both Barcelona and Valencia to the young defender. He is another one to look out for at the Bernabeu.
Exequiel Palacios | Midfielder | 20 years old
Sunday’s game at the Bernabeu could be one of many for Palacios at Real Madrid’s stadium, with the 20-year-old midfielder set to move to the Spanish side either in January or in the summer transfer window.
Palacios is an all-action central midfielder with a good range of passing and a strong right foot. He likes to get into the box, can score goals and is able to operate as an attacking player or in a deeper role.
He has admitted he watches Madrid’s Toni Kroos and tries to learn from the German and soon, the two are likely to be club colleagues, with Real set to pay just over €20m for the talented Argentine international.
Agustin Almendra | Midfielder | 18 years old
A young attacking midfielder who has been compared to a Boca and Argentina great, Juan Roman Riquelme, Almendra is an exciting talent who can play in a number 10 role and is already tipped for great things.
Almendra is developing under another former Boca idol, coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and has played 10 times for the club this season, although he has made only one brief six-minute appearance in the Copa Libertadores.
He may not feature in Sunday’s game, but is certainly one for the future and having travelled to Russia as one of the “sparring” side to help the senior team in their World Cup preparations, the Under-20 international is being closely followed by national coach Lionel Scaloni. In Europe, he can already count Valencia among his admirers.
Cristian Pavon | Striker | 22 years old
Pavon made his Argentina debut just over a year ago and was part of Argentina’s squad at the World Cup in Russia, where he came off the bench in the team’s three group games and then started in the 4-3 loss to France in the last 16.
The 22-year-old has been linked with a number of clubs in Europe, including AC Milan, Zenit, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco, but has said he is concentrating on Boca at the moment until the end of the club’s Copa Libertadores campaign.
Once the continental competition concludes (and, if Boca make it, the Club World Cup too), he could be available and would cost in the region of €31m after signing a new contract earlier this year.
Sebastian Villa | Winger | 22 years old
Another exciting player in Boca’s attack, winger Sebastian Villa is a 22-year-old Colombian international who made his debut for the national team in September and started in the first game against River last month.
Villa, who moved from Deportes Tolima to Boca earlier this year, has caught the eye of Colombia legend Faustino Asprilla, who praised the winger after a comparison was made between their playing styles.
Asprilla says he “loves” how Villa plays, but claims the two are not similar. However, the winger has already impressed with his pace and trickery for Boca, scoring two goals in 15 appearances since making what he described as a “dream” move to La Bombonera in June.
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