Boca knock out Palmeiras amid refereeing controversy

Big Phil Scolari laments Palmeiras’ Copa Libertadores exit (Pic: Marcos Ribolli)

Boca Juniors got the better of Palmeiras in the Copa Libertadores semi final last night to ensure a mouth-watering final against rivals River Plate.

There is a saying in Argentina that Boca Juniors have the mitad mas un (the half plus one) – it refers to the fact that they are the most popular team in Argentina, so it feels like half of the people, and a little more, support them. But after yet more bad refereeing decisions last night, Palmeiras and other Brazilian football fans might be wondering whether the mitad mas un refers to the pitch: each team have eleven players but Boca get the referee.

Palmeiras thought they had opened the scoring after Bruno Henrique tucked away Deyverson’s cross in the 10th minute. But the goal was controversially ruled out after the VAR team informed the referee that Deyverson was offside in the buildup to the goal. Less than five minutes later Palmeiras fans were annoyed again as a Deyverson was deemed to foul the keeper even though the keeper simply dropped it. Those incidents set the tone for the evening. Boca opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a goal that looked like it may have been offside; I can’t really tell if it really was offside (the marking was certainly poor), but that will have annoyed Palmeiras fans too.

Palmeiras should have had a penalty at the end of the first half as a Boca Juniors defender handled the ball in the box. Not given. Surely that should have been checked with the VAR, just like the goal had been. Nope. Another penalty shout by Palmeiras five minutes into the second half wasn’t given, although this time it was the correct decision since the Palmeiras attacker Willian was too slow and allowed the defender won it first.

Bruno Henrique opened the scoring for Palmeiras shortly after that and Palmeiras would take the lead when Gustavo Gomes tucked away a penalty for them less than ten minutes later. After conceding a goal at home, it was still a huge uphill task for Palmeiras to go through; they needed to score four in order to progress. Those hopes were all but dashed when Benedetto, the scourge of Palmeiras in the first leg, drove a long-range shot into the bottom corner after coming on as a substitute. And that was just about that. The stuffing was knocked out of Palmeiras once and for all.

From what I’ve read and from the highlights I’ve seen, Boca Juniors deserved to progress on the balance of play over the two legs. And ultimately, it was Palmeiras’ lack of ambition in the first leg cost them. They created a ton of chances in the second leg and were not helped by some terrible refereeing decisions, but they left themselves a massive mountain to climb by conceding two goals without reply in Buenos Aires. Boca were more clinical.

Sadly though, another great South American game was overshadowed by an awful refereeing performance. It isn’t just that one team has been favoured, although clearly this was the case last night, but that the decisions and way that these decisions are made are just so jaw-droppingly inconsistent. Why VAR for some decisions and not for others? A ridiculous VAR decision handed River Plate a place in the final on Tuesday night too and Boca Juniors were also benefited by an awful refereeing decision against Cruzeiro in the quarter final, when Dede was sent off. I woke up this morning to find a series of texts from a Palmeras-supporting friend of mine, outraged at the refereeing performance, and the refereeing performances against Brazilian teams in general. He has a point.

It was also hard to take for Palmeiras that they beat Boca Juniors in the group stages of the competition (they won 2 – 0 in Argentina and drew at home), and that they would have knocked them out if the competition if they had lost their final group game to Junior Barranquila. They won that match 3 – 1, and the Palmeiras keeper that night, Fernando Prass, had his name sung at the Bombonera as news filtered through to Boca Juniors fans of his good performance. Some have said that Palmeiras should have used that opportunity to ensure that Boca Juniors were thrown out of the competition by losing that game against Junior Barranquila, since they had already qualified and had nothing to play for. That is a cice idea, but I agree with Big Phil Scolari’s assessment that doing such a thing would have been a footballing disgrace and they simply couldn’t do it. Fair play.

Sadly for Palmeiras, and other Brazilian clubs, their 2018 Libertadores dream is over.

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