Boca Juniors advance to final

by James Mulligan

Boca Juniors kept up appearances when they booked their spot in the Club World Cup final with a 1-0 win over Tunisia’s Etoile Sahel on Wednesday evening.

News photoNeri Cardozo of Argentina’s Boca Juniors reacts after scoring the match’s only goal in the 37th minute of
the first semifinal of the Club World Cup against Etoile Sahel of Tunisia on Wednesday at Tokyo’s
National Stadium.
KYODO PHOTO

Neri Cardozo’s first-half strike against the African champions was enough to ensure there would be a South American presence again at Sunday’s showpiece in Yokohama, despite Boca having Fabian Vargas sent off with 25 minutes to go.

It’s now up to Italian giants AC Milan to keep their side of the bargain in their semifinal against Urawa Reds on Thursday if there is to be a South America vs. Europe final showdown in the revamped competition for the third straight year.

“We played pretty well with 10 players and we dominated the game and created chances,” said Boca coach Miguel Angel Russo. “I am satisfied. We are in the final and this is significant for Boca.

“It wasn’t an easy match to win but it’s normal because we were playing the African champion.”

In the teeth-chattering cold at National Stadium in Tokyo, there was little to warm the cockles of Boca fans used to far toastier climes, save for Cardozo’s strike.

The 21-year-old midfielder’s finish was emphatic, receiving the ball from Rodrigo Palacio on 37 minutes and crashing the ball into the roof of the net from close range.

The Boca fans cheered, and cheered once more when they got wind of new-signing Juan Roman Riquelme’s presence in the stands. Not that the former Villarreal playmaker, who returned to Boca too late to be registered for the tournament, hung around for long after the goal. With halftime calling, he showed quick feet to head somewhere warmer.

He actually missed Etoile’s best chance of the match with his sharp exit, Amine Chermiti producing a first touch Riquelme would have been proud of to open up enough space to hit a left-foot shot that Boca ‘keeper Mauricio Caranta got down to stop.

The Tunisians, who beat Mexico’s Pachuca 1-0 to advance to the semifinals, had little luck after that, although a red-card for Vargas for a second yellow after a high challenge gave them hope. Vargas is now out of the final, but Russo wasn’t worried.

“I don’t think Vargas’ play was that rough, but the referee thought otherwise,” said Russo. “We have some good players so we can put in different players that can do just as well as Vargas.”

Etoile could not capitalize on the numerical advantage, and the South Americans had the better chances at the tail end of the match. Martin Palermo should have scored with a header with 20 minutes left and Boca was denied a clear-cut penalty with 10 minutes remaining after Moussa Narry’s wild challenge on Alvaro Gonzalez.

Despite his players’ inability to utilize the one-man advantage, Etoile coach Bertrand Marchand hailed his team’s showing.

“We played one of the big names and we gave problems to Boca. It’s one of the best matches we have ever played. I realize against the big teams the differences between them and us. They were able to score and that is one of the differences. We don’t have as much experience as Boca and the difference showed today,” said the French coach.

Boca, which beat Brazilian club Gremio in the Libertadores Cup to earn a place in Japan, is aiming to be crowned the world’s best club for the third time since 2000.

Boca beat Milan on penalties in the 2003 Toyota Cup, the one-off match between the South and European champions that was the forerunner to the Club World Cup. Palermo scored both goals when Boca beat Real Madrid 2-1 to claim the title in 2000.

Russo refused to speculate his team would face Milan in the final but admitted his men would have to improve whichever side they face.

“Milan have to beat the Reds but we need to improve in the midfield, we need to make improvements and we need a better rhythm in our play,” said Russo.