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Rebooted Libertadores final a treat for Madrid soured by regret

AFP  |  Madrid 

Six thousand miles away and 15 days later than planned, the final between Juniors and River Plate will be concluded.

There have been refusals, complaints and threats to go to court, but the players of and River, Argentina's two greatest rivals, landed in and all indications are the second leg will be played.

Both teams trained on Thursday, at the Spanish national team's base at Las Rozas and River at Real Madrid's Valdebebas, with the players appearing in good spirits, laughing and joking, jumping on each other's backs.

There was even a smattering of fans waiting outside, some holding flags or notebooks open for autographs, even if it was a world away from the rocking Bombonera, packed out for an open training session before the original fixture was due last month.

That game had to be postponed, three times, after River fans injured Boca players during an attack on their team's bus. It could have been cancelled, or awarded to Boca, but CONMEBOL, the South American federation, chose to relocate to

A final at the Santiago Bernabeu should be something to savour, particularly when it is the at stake on Sunday, the most prestigious prize in

Instead, as players finished training and spoke to journalists, the sense of regret became clear.

"It is a weird final," said Carlos Tevez, once of Manchester United and Manchester City, and now a striker for Boca.

"To play a match between Boca and River in Madrid, it's weird."

said: "We would have liked to play the game at home, on our pitch, in front of our fans, who deserve it, but the decision is made. We have to make the best of it."


- 'Lost importance' -

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CONMEBOL pointed to as a "neutral" host city, with the largest Argentinian community outside Argentina, and a long and successful tradition of football. It will host final in June too.

For many, however, this was the most important match in Argentina's history and its removal a national embarrassment. After all, the was named after those that secured independence from countries like in the early nineteenth century.

"Unfortunately for me, this match has lost importance in my heart," said Real Madrid's Argentinian on Wednesday.

Boca and River had initially refused. Boca believe River should have forfeited the trophy and have said they will take the case to the

Depending on the result this weekend, they still might.

River, meanwhile, have lost the home advantage enjoyed by Boca in the first leg, which finished 2-2, not to mention economic benefits, despite CONMEBOL pledging to compensate them for any revenue missed.

"It was the security system that failed, absolutely and totally," River's club told on Friday.

"River are the victims."

Most deprived, however, are perhaps the thousands of fans let down and then left at home in Some have travelled, including Agustin Giacone, one Boca supporter who arrived in on Wednesday.

"It's going to be a great party," he said.

"Argentinians don't want to spoil the name of anymore."

Boca believes restoration will take longer.

"We need time," he said on Friday. "We need matches of this quality played in or to show that we have matured."

- Tickets still available -

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For each club, the 20,000 tickets allocated to fans in and elsewhere sold out within hours but some of the 5,000 for residents in Argentina remain available. The cost, and short notice, is likely to have put them off.

Inside the stadium, a vacant block of seats will act as a buffer between the two sets of supporters. Outside, the Paseo de la Castellana, the road that runs from the city centre to the stadium, will be closed off from 9am local time, as police seek to keep them separate. Around 2,500 police officers are expected to attend.

If the match goes off peacefully, CONMEBOL will claim success, not least as broadcasters all over the world will have shown the fixture they paid for.

For Spain, there would be a boost to their bid, at the direct expense of the Uruguay-Argentina-ticket, another lead contender. La Liga, intent on staging matches in the United States, will feel its cause has greater precedent.

For River and Boca, the winner will hoist the cup and then join their hosts, Real Madrid, at the World Club Cup in the later this month. River would also qualify for next year's Copa Libertadores.

But any joy will be tinged with regret, for the final that could have been. "Today we should be talking about how River and Boca made Argentina proud," Schelotto said.

"Again, we have lost to violence.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, December 08 2018. 08:06 IST
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