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The Intercontinental Cup, a long-extinct tournament that pitted the titans of European football against the best South America had to offer, is still fondly remembered. Twenty years after one of the competition’s greatest finals, we’d be remiss if we didn’t look back at how Boca Juniors upset Real Madrid.
As Champions League winners, Real Madrid was Europe’s premier club team, boasting an impressive assembly of world-class talent with Raúl, Claude Makélélé, Roberto Carlos, and Steve McManaman, Real were European football in a nutshell—organized and tactically astute—but Vicente Del Bosque’s team was also renowned for playing gorgeous football.
Boca Juniors couldn’t compete with the financial might of Real, but they didn’t have to. They could call upon the likes of Juan Román Riquelme and Martín Palermo. Their eccentricity and elegance was representative of South American football as a whole, and, in this match, they had something to prove.
They wanted to show the world they could go toe-to-toe with the best European footballers. The weight of an entire continent rested on the shoulders of the Xeneizes.
Both Boca and Real were teams in transition. A new era was looming in Madrid, the era of the Galácticos. Florentino Pérez had just been elected on the promise of signing the world’s most elite talent, and Luis Figo was his first big signing.
In 1998, Boca hired Larry David’s doppelganger, Carlos Bianchi, and domestic success soon followed. Bianchi knew how to win the Intercontinental Cup. He did so in 1994, upsetting AC Milan with Vélez Sarsfield, and would do it once more against Madrid in 2000, solidifying his status as an Argentine football legend both on and off the field.
Boca was at Real’s throat right from kick-off, and Martín Palermo got on the scoresheet after just three minutes. Mere moments later, the genius Riquelme played a gorgeous pass to Palermo, who rifled it past Iker Casillas to make it 2-0, sending the Tokyo National Stadium into ecstasy.
Real was reeling. Los Blancos managed to pull one back in the 12th minute through Roberto Carlos, but it wasn’t enough. Despite constant pressure from the Galácticos, Boca held firm and pulled off the unthinkable.
The Intercontinental Cup was replaced by the Club World Cup in 2005. The new format lacks the thrill of its predecessor and achievements like that of Boca are rare. Out of the last ten Club World Cup tournaments, nine have been won by European teams.
The 2000 final was one of the most memorable games in one of football’s most unique tournaments. One of the last times both continents displayed their football greatness in full.