The 2012 Copa Libertadores comes to a close tonight with the decisive second leg of the final between Corinthians and Boca Juniors. The first leg finished a 1×1 draw last week in La Bombonera, and now Corinthians have the chance to win their first Copa Libertadores trophy with a victory in front of their home fans in São Paulo.
The question is: do Corinthians really have a significant home advantage? In terms of the aggregate score, they do not. The tie is levelled at 1×1 and in the Libertadores final the away goals rule does not apply, meaning Corinthians’ task is the same as ever, they need to win.
In form terms, perhaps they do hold a slight advantage playing at home (they won all but one of their home games in this year’s tournament), however Boca have a superb away record, especially when playing in Brazil. Just ask Palmeiras, or Grêmio, or Santos…
The reason that most are citing Corinthians’ ‘home advantage’ as overwhelming is down to the power and influence of the home fans. Many believe that the Fiel will transform the Pacaembu into a cauldron and the Corinthians support will create a hostile atmosphere that will make it impossible for Boca to perform well. However, I am somewhat sceptical. Granted, the Pacaembu will be packed to the rafters, and the noise at kick-off will no doubt be deafening, but watching Corinthians play at home is often a strange experience. If the game is still undecided half-way into the second half or if, god forbid, Boca take the lead, the atmosphere will change dramatically and instead of chanting and banging their drums, the 40,000-strong bando de loucos will most likely start to get on their team’s back, overcome with nerves.
Several Corinthians teams have crumbled under this pressure in the past, and whether they can withstand the tension may well be the key question.
How will they approach the match?
They way in which Boca Juniors will approach the game is clear and unchanged. Playing away from home and liberated from the ‘obligation’ to push forward and attack, Boca will most likely play most of the match in their own territory, patiently waiting for space to appear behind the Corinthians defence in order to initiate a counter-attack.
The home side’s modus operandi however, is far less certain. Corinthians are not a particularly strong or dominant team going forward, however they will not be allowed space to counter at home, so they will have to try their best to take the game to Boca.
Key tactical areas
1) The flanks
To quote from Tim Vickery’s blog on the BBC Sport website last week: “With a narrow midfield trio behind Riquelme, and deep enough to stay close to the defensive line, Boca, too, are hard to play through. They like to form a funnel, forcing the opposition inside where they come up against the Boca centre backs in reduced space.” So, if Boca are set up in an attempt to draw their opponent’s to their centre backs, then surely the best way to get behind them is by attacking their full backs.
In this particular zone, it would appear that Corinthians hold the advantage. Their formation is almost a 4-2-4-0, so on each wing they have one full back and one wide midfielder. Even though Boca’s midfield carilleros Erviti and Ledesma drift wide on occasion, they only have one naturally wide player on each wing, meaning that Corinthians could well find themselves in some 2 vs. 1 situations on either flank.
There is a caveat to this however, as any time Corinthians’ full backs push up the field, it will allow Boca’s mobile forward Pablo Mouche to drift out wide and attack the channels. This is both Mouche’s strongest zone and Corinthians’ weakest, so the home side will need to be careful coming forward.
2) Paulinho vs. Riquelme
The most important players of either side, Paulinho the tenacious box-to-box midfielder, Riquelme the cerebral playmaker. Chances are that both players will find themselves facing each other in the same zone of the pitch.
Paulinho’s main threat comes when he charges forward and instigates the Corinthians attack, however in the first leg he did not get much opportunity to do that, as he was preoccupied with leaving Riquelme in too much space for the Boca counter.
After Corinthians went 1×0 down, Paulinho played a little more risky in search of the equaliser, and thus Riquelme was allowed plenty of space and threatened to orchestrate a second goal for the Argentines.
In theory, the two players could cancel each other out, but it is highly likely that the level of contribution of both players will dictate the final score.