Copa Libertadores: Sergio Romero’s last chance at continental title

Sergio Romero is aiming for the one last shot to snatch his first major continental title in his career via the Copa Libertadores.

The former Manchester United goalkeeper, Romero is eyeing for his first top tier continental title with Boca Juniors this year. They are set to face off Fernando Diniz’s Fluminense in the final, which will be held at the Maracanã Stadium next Saturday.

The 36-year-old shot stopper has never won the top flight continental competition during his career at the club. He only featured nine times in the UEFA Champions League, three games with The Red Devils and the remaining six with AZ Alkmaar. He was mostly the club’s second fiddle at the European top level, whether that be at Monaco or Manchester United. Romero only became the mainstay during his stints in AZ Alkmaar under Louis van Gaal, and in two former Serie A sides Sampdoria and Venezia.

Nevertheless, he was always Argentina’s number one between the sticks from 2009 to 2017. The former Racing Club man was even instrumental in La Albiceleste reaching three international finals, which includes the 2014 World Cup and Copa America 2015 and 2016.

The only continental silverware he has ever clinched was the Europa League in the 2016/2017 campaign. At that time, the Argentine was given the main role by José Mourinho in that competition. He appeared in 12 games and made eight clean sheets, including the final match against Ajax Amsterdam.

A victory at the Maracanã would not only be a career highlight for him. Such could probably lead Argentina national team boss Lionel Scaloni to reconsider calling him back as Emiliano Martínez’s backup instead of River Plate’s Franco Armani. It may also mean a lot more for his current side Boca Juniors. Romero has been playing a bigger role than expected.

The unsung shoot-out hero

Romero has been the key figure in Boca Juniors’ campaign in Copa Libertadores in 2023. He was practically their hero at the knockout stages as his team relied on penalties to advance. Jorge Almirón’s men had to defeat Uruguay side Nacional, Racing Club and the 2020 and 2021 champions Palmeiras via penalty shootouts, the crucial part where he stepped in.

The former Argentina number one saved six penalties across the three shoot-outs. He denied two attempts each while beating Nacional 6-4, Racing Club 4-1 and Palmeiras 5-3 from spot kicks. He is undoubtedly Boca’s unsung hero.

His expertise in saving penalties should not have come as a surprise. Romero is one of the experienced shot stopper when it comes to it. He was the key man in Argentina’s win over Netherlands in 2014 World Cup semifinal, which required a shootout. On that occasion, he denied two shots.

He did the same at the Copa America 2015 quarterfinal while defeating Colombia 6-5 in the shootout. Romero even saved the first penalty by Arturo Vidal in the 2016 Copa America final before Lionel Messi missed the first shot leading to Argentina’s loss consecutively against Chile in the final.

Unfortunately, the goalkeeper, who was released by Manchester United in 2021, has been widely remembered more on his failure in helping Leo Messi lift the international trophy. Apart from his success in 2014 World Cup semifinal, Romero was involved in losing penalties to Uruguay in the 2011 Copa America at quarterfinal. He was also involved in the subsequent two finals against Chile next editions. He has not received a national team call-up since 2018.

The leader for Boca Juniors’ return

After ending his spells in Europe in 2022, Romero opted to join Boca Juniors to play alongside his former teammate in Old Trafford Marcos Rojo. He is one of the few experienced senior players in the squad. Under Almirón, Romero is expected to be leading Boca – along with Rojo and Edison Cavani – to their return at the level in the continent. He has been named captain seven times this season and helped Rojo lead the backline.

Boca Juniors is currently sitting seventh in Argentina’s top flight. However, they are only one game away to lifting their seventh trophy, which would tie them with Independiente as the teams with the most titles in Copa Libertadores history.

In addition, should they manage to defeat Fluminense, Romero and co could finally end Brazilian clubs’ domination in the competition, which began in 2019. A win would also put an end to their title drought. Boca Juniors last clinch the title in 2007, when their current vice president Juan Román Riquelme was still playing.

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