Tevez says Copa Lib­er­ta­dores fi­nal win with Boca Ju­niors will be ‘most im­por­tant’

▶ Team Welling­ton mid­fielder tells John McAu­ley he can’t wait to po­ten­tially face big teams such as Real Madrid

The National - News - - SPORT FOOTBALL -

Boca Ju­niors striker Car­los Tevez has spent much of his ca­reer wind­ing peo­ple up, but vic­tory in this week­end’s Copa Lib­er­ta­dores fi­nal could be all about wind­ing down for the well-trav­elled Ar­gen­tine.

Tevez, 34, had pre­vi­ously vowed to re­tire some­time next year but a win in Sun­day’s South Amer­i­can club show­down against fel­low Buenos Aires arch-ri­vals River Plate could sig­nal the per­fect farewell for the life­long Boca fan.

“I don’t think there would be any­thing left to win. That’s what I want and the dream would be re­alised,” Tevez said this year of a pos­si­ble Lib­er­ta­dores tri­umph. “This is with­out doubt the most im­por­tant fi­nal of my ca­reer,” he added days be­fore the resched­uled sec­ond leg at Real Madrid’s San­ti­ago Bern­abeu sta­dium.

With the first leg a thrilling 2-2 draw, the sec­ond game was post­poned last month after the Boca team bus was at­tacked and play­ers in­jured as it ap­proached River’s Mon­u­men­tal sta­dium in the cap­i­tal.

Hang­ing up his boots after a sec­ond Lib­er­ta­dores tri­umph would give Tevez’s ca­reer per­fect sym­me­try.

The diminu­tive but pug­na­cious striker won the Lib­er­ta­dores with Boca in 2003, then aged just 19 and play­ing along­side Guillermo Bar­ros Sch­e­lotto, now Boca man­ager. Since then he has en­joyed a peri­patetic life packed with ti­tles and con­tro­ver­sies.

He moved to Corinthi­ans in 2005 then left the Brazil­ian gi­ants for West Ham United in a move that was ques­tioned in English courts for the way it was struc­tured.

His goals and com­mit­ted per­for­mances there won him big money trans­fers, first to Manch­ester United then to Manch­ester City in a dar­ing cross-city move that irked Alex Fer­gu­son and had Tevez wind­ing up the Red side of the city.

But after fall­ing out with City man­ager Roberto Mancini – in one no­to­ri­ous in­ci­dent he was ac­cused of re­fus­ing to go on as a sub­sti­tute – he moved to Ju­ven­tus and then Shang­hai Shen­hua.

When Tevez came back to Boca at the start of this year, 50,000 fans turned up at the Bom­bon­era sta­dium to wel­come him home.

The re­turn to his boy­hood favourites has been bit­ter­sweet: Boca won the Ar­gen­tine first divi­sion in Au­gust and are just 90 min­utes away from a record-equalling sev­enth Lib­er­ta­dores ti­tle.

Tevez, how­ever, has played a lim­ited role in the cam­paigns, and it is a sign of his ma­tu­rity that he has ac­cepted it with grace.

He started only four of Boca’s 13 Lib­er­ta­dores games this

sea­son but has ap­peared in nine al­to­gether, scor­ing three goals. Most of all, though, he has proven to be the soul of the team and spokesman for the play­ers.

When Boca’s man­ager was at­tacked out­side the Mon­u­men­tal be­fore the sched­uled sec­ond leg, it was Tevez who acted as the team mouth­piece and lob­bied for the game to be can­celled.

He is un­likely to start on Sun­day but no one would bet against him play­ing a part at some stage, as he did in the first leg when he came on with 17 min­utes re­main­ing and al­most led his side to an in­jury-time win­ner.

“I dream of mak­ing the peo­ple happy,” Tevez said.

“I keep dream­ing, be­cause if I didn’t, I would be at home with my fam­ily.”

Should Boca win, they will head to the UAE for the Fifa Club World Cup and Tevez may de­lay his de­ci­sion fur­ther to play teams such as Real Madrid. Mean­while, Boca trained in Madrid for the first time on Thurs­day shortly after River Plate landed in Spain.

After ar­riv­ing on Wed­nes­day, Boca’s play­ers looked in good spir­its dur­ing a light ses­sion at Las Rozas, the Span­ish na­tional team’s train­ing base in the north-west of the cap­i­tal, on Thurs­day morn­ing.

More Club World Cup,

Back in Ar­gentina in 2000, not long after his 11th birth­day, Mario Barcia watched on tele­vi­sion with his fa­ther as Boca Ju­niors de­feated Real Madrid in the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Cup to record a fa­mous vic­tory.

Now, Barcia could play against both in the UAE. In the space of four days.

“Yeah it’s just a dream,” he says by tele­phone from New Zealand, shortly be­fore his Team Welling­ton set off for the Emi­rates ahead of Wed­nes­day’s 2018 Fifa Club World Cup opener against Al Ain.

“Ev­ery night I’m go­ing to sleep I’m dream­ing of ev­ery­thing: what’s go­ing to hap­pen, dream­ing about play­ing with the big­gest teams in the world.

“It’s such a great feel­ing; amaz­ing. It’s some­thing I’ve been look­ing to do for the past few years.”

Maybe much longer. Barcia’s route to the Club World Cup, the re­branded In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Cup, has been any­thing but con­ven­tional.

A tal­ented mid­fielder with am­bi­tions of mak­ing it in pro­fes­sional foot­ball, he left his home in San­ti­ago del Es­tero to the north of Ar­gentina at age 12, join­ing Newell’s Old Boys the year after Lionel Messi had de­parted for Barcelona.

He spent time play­ing in the Bo­li­vian first divi­sion, then in the Ar­gen­tine sec­ond tier, be­fore a com­pa­triot coach emailed to say he had seen videos of Barcia on YouTube, and in­vited the player to join him in New Zealand.

So Barcia left home again, with­out friends or fam­ily, armed with only his suit­case.

His English non-ex­is­tent, he lived in hos­tels to learn the lan­guage, mix­ing with Euro­peans, read­ing news­pa­pers, watch­ing movies with sub­ti­tles. Pop mu­sic helped speed the process.

Five years later, and now flu­ent, Barcia re­flects on a jour­ney he hopes con­cludes with a dream tie against a true heavy­weight in the UAE.

“Yeah, it’s been tough,” he says. “At the start it was re­ally dif­fi­cult. But Team Welling­ton are amaz­ing, such a great club, so I’m so happy with my de­ci­sion. And here I am.”

He’s cer­tainly ar­rived. In a few days, Welling­ton take on UAE cham­pi­ons Al Ain at the Hazza bin Zayed Sta­dium, where both clubs make their Club World Cup de­but.

The win­ner goes on to face Tu­nisia’s Esper­ance de Tu­nis, the freshly minted African cham­pi­ons, in the quar­ter-fi­nals, be­fore a po­ten­tial last-four clash against who­ever pre­vails in Sun­day’s resched­uled sec­ond leg of the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores fi­nal.

Ei­ther Boca Ju­niors or River Plate await. For an Ar­gen­tine with a Boca-mad fa­ther, it’s pretty tan­ta­lis­ing.

“For us, as Ar­gen­tini­ans, the whole Club World Cup means a lot,” Barcia says.

“For ev­ery sin­gle team in Ar­gentina, the Club World Cup is re­ally im­por­tant.

“And for me, be­ing Ar­gen­tinian, all I want is to play against an Ar­gen­tinian team.

“And I’m work­ing re­ally hard to play against one of the best teams in Ar­gentina. It could be Boca Ju­niors or River, but it doesn’t mat­ter to me – I’d just love to play against one. But be­fore that we have to win two games. I’m very sure and con­fi­dent we can do that.”

Still, it would rep­re­sent quite the feat. Welling­ton are semi-pro­fes­sional, with the ma­jor­ity of their play­ers work­ing part-time jobs to help fund their foot­ball. For in­stance, Barcia coaches foot­ball to chil­dren now, but at var­i­ous times worked on a build­ing site, and for a re­moval com­pany.

Welling­ton booked a first ap­pear­ance at the Club World Cup by de­feat­ing Fiji’s Lau­toka 10-3 on ag­gre­gate the Ocea­nia Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in May. Run­ners-up the pre­vi­ous three years – they lost each time to do­mes­tic ri­vals Auck­land City – but fi­nally they had made it.

And, al­though Barcia main­tains Al Ain form the fo­cus – he re­searched early by watch­ing their matches on YouTube and cites Swe­den striker Mar­cus Berg as his side’s main threat – Auck­land’s barely be­liev­able run to the 2014 Club World Cup semi-fi­nal pro­vides real op­ti­mism. “It’s pos­si­ble,” Barcia says.

“To­day in foot­ball, as you’ve seen in Spain or in Eng­land, any team can beat any team. It’s pos­si­ble we can make some his­tory. You just need to work re­ally hard for it, and just be­lieve in your team and in your­self that you can do it.

“At the end of the day, on the field it’s 11 against 11. Any­thing can hap­pen... any­thing. We’re in a great po­si­tion, but Al Ain is all we’re look­ing at. It’s the game we have to win, and I’m pretty con­fi­dent we can beat them. We’ll be do­ing ev­ery­thing to do that. So let’s see what we can achieve.” And, then, who knows? Maybe his Dad will be get­ting up even ear­lier again back home in Ar­gentina, just like he did in 2000, when Mar­tin Palmero scored twice against Madrid and Juan Ro­man Riquelme, one of Barcia’s favourite play­ers, “was just hav­ing fun on the pitch”.

After all, he’s al­lowed to dream. “If you said when I was a kid watch­ing the same tour­na­ment that I would be play­ing, I wouldn’t be­lieve it.

“Now I can’t be­lieve it. Some­times I think ‘ah, I’m go­ing to the World Cup’, but I don’t be­lieve it. I can’t wait. I re­ally can’t wait.”

EPA

If Car­los Tevez and Boca Ju­niors win Copa Lib­er­ta­dores, they will head to the UAE to play in the Club World Cup

Getty

Mario Barcia and Team Welling­ton cel­e­brate after he scored in Ocea­nia Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal’s first leg against Fiji’s Lau­toka in May

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