Boca Juniors vs River Plate: The Ultimate Footballing Rivalry

Josh Sim
Boca Juniors vs River Plate
Boca Juniors vs River Plate

There are very few games in this modern era, that have to be moved over 10,000 km away from its actual venue, because of fears concerning the safety of players from being attacked by rival fans.

But that's exactly what happened to the second leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores final - the encounter was moved away from Buenos Aires and played at Real Madrid's home in the Santiago Bernabéu instead.

This came about after a bus carrying players from the Argentinian club Boca Juniors was attacked, with broken glass and pepper spray no less. With CONMEBOL deeming it unsafe to play in Argentina, they consequently decided the return game had to be played in Spain. Even Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had to issue a statement committing the necessary security resources for the event.

The River Plate fans brought all of their passion with them to Madrid in 2018
The River Plate fans brought all of their passion with them to Madrid in 2018 / Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

While the details of the attack remain shocking, it was unsurprising to find out what linked each individual perpetrator and compelled them to commit the violent acts - a love for River Plate.

Unlike most football derbies, these rival fanbases are willing to act on their hatred for one another using violent means - which emphasises the strength of the rivalry between two of the most successful and popular clubs in Argentina.

Given that both sides are collectively said to have the support of 73% of all football fans in Argentina, it's a game that is considered a must-watch for the country. Indeed, The Observer put attending the fixture as the number one sports experience to have before you die.

"Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about."

Gavin Hamilton, The Observer

Yet despite their status as enemies, you might be surprised to learn that both clubs were established in the same area of Buenos Aires. The working-class docklands area of the city, known as La Boca, was where River were created in 1901. Four years later, the founders of Boca came together to establish their club - in the same suburb as their counterparts had.

The first official clash between both clubs was played out in 1913, but there wasn't the same level of animosity that there is now, with their similar origins meaning that there wasn't anything to justify any level of anger from either side.

But this would all change in the 1920s. A decision was made for La Banda to move away from La Boca and into the more affluent suburb of Recoleta in the north of the city. The club would soon feel the financial benefits of the move, spending heavily on big-money acquisitions in Carlos Peucelle and Bernabé Ferreyra to vastly improve their squad. As a result, they would become known as 'Los Millonarios', a nickname that remains widely used today.

By contrast, Boca used this to further their status as the club of the city's working class, attracting many from the Italian immigrant community. As a result, there was now a class divide between both sides - adding fuel to their growing rivalry.

Boca Juniors have become one of the most popular clubs in Argentina
Boca Juniors have become one of the most popular clubs in Argentina / Marcos Brindicci/Getty Images

Speak to fans of either side and they'll provide you a list of petty insults to describe their rival. Those who support the Xeneizes call River Plate fans 'gallinas', or chickens, to describe the lack of guts their players have. Meanwhile, Boca fans are called 'Los Chanchitos' (little pigs), and 'Los Bosteros' (manure collectors) for being based from the poorer La Boca area - even though La Banda were founded there in the first place.

As well as verbally, fans have sometimes found even more creative ways to take a dig at their opponents. Boca once brought posters of musical acts to a game, to taunt how their rivals had seen more musical acts at El Monumental than on-pitch success from their own team. More recently, Los Millonarios once floated an inflatable pig at one encounter - the animal was wearing their counterparts' famed blue jersey, of course.

Even the players themselves have embraced the rivalry - shown by the time when Boca star Carlos Tevez was sent-off in 2004 for doing a 'chicken dance' in front of River fans after scoring in that particular Superclásico encounter.

And its intensity does create a tribal-like culture among those who play for either team as well. While around 100 or so have been brave enough to cross the divide and play for both clubs, the majority of players tend to vow that they'd never play for their counterparts, including the likes of Diego Maradona and Juan Román Riquelme.

"When I wake up, I can’t put on anything red or white."

Boca Juniors legend Juan Román Riquelme

It remains incredibly close to call in terms of who is the more successful team in Argentina. River currently boast the higher number of domestic league titles, having won 36 Primera División crowns to their rival's 34.

Yet the Xeneizes have been more successful when it comes to continental competitions, having won two more Copa Libertadores than their arch-enemy. They also have lifted the Copa Sudamericana more times as well.

Moreover, they have the slight edge in competitive Superclásico wins, having tasted victory 89 times compared to Los Millonarios' 83. But it goes to show just how neither side have been able to dominate the fixture, giving a genuine sense that every encounter could go either way.

The fixture has been very competitive throughout its long history
The fixture has been very competitive throughout its long history / STR/Getty Images

Is it the game that produces the most attractive football in the world? No, it does not. But for the pure spectacle and drama the fixture brings makes it one of the best games to watch - even when it takes place in Madrid rather than Buenos Aires.

And it's a derby that carries an intensity that will never go away - making it the best rivalry in world football that exists today.