The dream final of the biggest competition in South American club soccer finally kicks off this Sunday in Madrid, two weeks later than planned and 6,000 miles from where it was originally supposed to be played.
In an unprecedented move, the second and deciding match in the Copa Libertadores final between Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate was shifted to Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium after fans attacked Boca’s team bus on the way to River’s stadium on November 24.
Conmebol, the body that governs South American soccer, appears bent on getting the game over and done with by limiting the chance of further violence. Not only have the teams had to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, but each club has only 5,000 tickets for its Argentina-based fans.
River Plate President Rodolfo D’Onofrio told El Pais the setting was “an embarrassment for Argentine soccer.”
Boca star Carlos Tevez, whose career has taken him to clubs from Manchester City in England and Juventus, was equally unimpressed. The idea of moving the game was made by “three men behind a desk who don’t understand anything,” he said.
For hardened Argentine soccer fans already wrestling with a weak currency and some of whom spent a small fortune cheering on the national team at this year’s World Cup in Russia, it’s a pre-Christmas excursion they could do without.
Hotel figures suggest many Argentines have been put off. The Association of Hotel Businesses of Madrid said it registered a small increase in occupancy for this Sunday night, with hotels just over half full. That contrasts with a 90 percent rate on Friday and Saturday nights.
Neither team appears particularly enthused by the change of venue. River, which loses its home advantage, said it’s unfair on fans who paid to see the original game. Boca has argued it should be awarded a win because River failed to control its fans.
And Madrid isn’t everyone’s first choice. The irony of a competition named after the liberation heroes who freed South America from colonial rule now being played in Spain has some fans joking the tournament should be renamed “Conquistadors of the Americas” Cup.
Flooding and violence
The two-legged final has taken more than a month to compete. An initial attempt to play the first game at Boca’s Bombonera stadium was postponed because of flooding. It was played a day later on Nov. 11 and finished in a 2-2 tie.
The return leg should have been two weeks later at River’s Monumental stadium. Its fans hurled rocks at the Boca team bus, police responded with tear gas and some players had to go to the hospital.
Violence in Argentine football is nothing new, but it does appear to be escalating. Away fans have been banned from attending matches since 2013 and there have been 328 soccer-related deaths in Argentina since 1922, with about a third of those occurring in the past 10 years, according to the Argentine non-profit organization Salvemos al Futbol, or “Let’s Save Football.”
Flooding and violence: Dream soccer match becomes South America’s nightmare