Anyone who follows football should be familiar with the powers of the Southern Hemisphere, such as Santos, Atlético Nacional, Colo-Colo, Corinthians, River Plate, Independiente, and, of course, Boca Juniors. South America’s version of the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, is a storied competition and before the advent of the FIFA Club World Cup it was the Intercontinental Cup that decided the de facto best side in the world.
This is the story of the time that the mighty Real Madrid faced Boca Juniors club in November 2000 in Tokyo. Diego Maradona had famously represented the club before moving to Barcelona and now his heir apparent, Juan Román Riquelme, was the heartbeat of the side. Riquelme supplied the bullets for goal-scoring wizard Martin Palermo, and the two would complement each other superbly despite famously not getting along.
The club’s president at the time was the future national president, Mauricio Macri. In the managerial hot seat was Carlos Bianchi, who arrived from Vélez Sarsfield in 1998 to turn around the giants’ fortunes. Immediately El Virrey helped bring the good times came back to La Bombonera as Boca won both the Apertura and Clausura the following season. In fact the Apertura run was completely undefeated.
The aforementioned Riquelme and Palermo weren’t the only two players Bianchi built his side around. He had players of great calibre such as Marcelo Delgado, José Basualdo, Sebastian Battaglia, the Barros Schelotto twins, Hugo Ibarra, and Cristian Traverso. There was also the Colombian trio of Mauricio Serna, Jorge Bermúdez, and goalkeeper Óscar Córdoba.
The first half of the year 2000 didn’t start out too well for Boca, who finished in seventh place in the Clausura. In the Copa Libertadores Los Xeneize kicked off with a 1-0 defeat to Bolivian side Blooming 1-0, before bouncing back to win the group and qualify for the last 16 alongside Uruguayan side Peñarol. Blooming, and Chilean side Universidad Católica the two teams to fall at the first hurdle.
The next round drew Boca against Ecuador’s El Nacional. While the first leg was a goalless draw, the second leg back in La Bombonera produced eight goals and was a high-scoring thriller, setting up a quarter-final Superclásico with arch rivals River Plate. The first leg in El Monumental saw River capitalise on home advantage, winning 2-1, with Riquelme grabbing Boca’s goal. In the return leg at La Bombonera Boca’s class shone through, with Delgado, Riquelme and Palermo finding the net in a 3-0 win.
Boca Juniors faced Mexican giants Club Ámerica, winning 4-1 in the first leg before losing the return 3-1 in the high altitude of the iconic Estadio Azteca. The final, against Brazilians Palmeiras, went to penalties as the sides couldn’t be separated after two legs. Boca eventually triumphed to seal their third Copa Libertadores title and set them on a collision course with European champions Real Madrid.
The Spanish club, who defeated fellow La Liga side Valencia in the Champions League final, was in the midst of its Galáctico era. Luis Figo, Guti, Roberto Carlos, Claude Makelele, Raúl, Iker Casillas, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Campo, Michael Salgado, and Aitor Karanka were just some of the illustrious names on their team sheet that season.
The match took place in the National Stadium in Tokyo on 28 November 2000, in front of more than 52,000 people. The media portrayed this as a cake walk for Real Madrid beforehand. Los Blancos manager Vicente Del Bosque, however, refused to be sucked in, making few public appearances and concentrating on the job at hand. The Argentine side, on the other hand, arrived early in Japan and made many public appearances.
Madrid’s line up was formidable. Casillas in goal; Hierro, Karanka, and Iván Helguera in defence; Geremi and Roberto Carlos at wing-back; Makelele, Figo, Guti, and Steve McManaman in midfield; with Raúl as the lone striker.
Against all expectations, the atmosphere in the Tokyo National Stadium was not pro-Madrid, but it wasn’t. Boca fans turned it into a mini-La Bombonera, and their team made the brighter start. The South American champuions built possession from the back, taking their time for the right chance, which came very quickly. Geremi gifted the ball to Serna who played a pretty ball into the feet of Delgado on the right side. This shook the Madrid defence, and Delgado fed Palermo in the box. El Titán surged between Karanka and Roberto Carlos to put the ball past Casillas for the first goal after just three minutes.
One would expect that it would prove a Herculean task to protect the lead in the face of the expected Madrid onslaught, yet it was Boca who would grab the second goal. Battaglia dispossessed Raúl, giving the ball to Riquelme who laid it on a plate for Palermo.
To Madrid, the unthinkable had happened. With the talent on the field for Madrid they could feasibly still come back with over 80 minutes to play. However, a quick reaction was needed. Hierro hit a 40-yard pass to Roberto Carlos, who chested the ball in the amazing form and skill he was known to have. He eluded three Boca defenders and fired a stunning half volley which beat the goalkeeper in the 12th minute.
That would be it for the scoring, but the star players would all get their chances on both goals. Raúl would come close after a back and forth with Guti in the first half; Riquelme sent a free-kick off target. After the break, Palermo would draw close on an empty Madrid net, but would miss. Boca weren’t going to sit back, if they got possession they’d give it to their number 10, and let him dictate the ball.
At the end, the Boca bench exploded onto the field. Just like years before with Vélez, Bianchi had his way in the Intercontinental Cup. Boca would come back the next year, only lose against Bayern Munich. Eventually Riquelme and Palermo would play in Europe, keeping Boca in their hearts and returning to their spiritual home after a spell in Spain. Bianchi spent the 2005/06 season with Atlético Madrid also to return to Boca at a later date. In 2005 FIFA did away with the Intercontinental Cup, replacing it with the Club World Cup, which has been dominated by the European clubs.
By Stephen Brandt for the SOUTH AMERICA series