Argentine community awaits Copa Libertadores final in Madrid
MADRID (AP) — Madrid-based fan groups of Boca Juniors and River Plate are preparing for the Copa Libertadores final in the city that is home to one of the largest Argentine populations outside of Argentina.
Meetings are underway to mobilize Argentines from across Spain and other European countries for the second leg of the twice-postponed final on Dec. 9 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Madrid was given the second leg between the Argentine archrivals on Thursday after fan violence caused the match scheduled for last weekend to be put off twice.
River Plate fans attacked the Boca Juniors team bus with rocks, bottles, and wood en route to River’s stadium in Buenos Aires on Saturday and injured several Boca players.
River Plate was still trying to appeal against CONMEBOL’s decision to move the match to Spain for security reasons, but it was unlikely to succeed.
Having the final in Madrid has prompted mixed feelings for some local fans of Boca and River.
“We all wanted this match to be played back in our stadium in Buenos Aires,” said Fabio Vides, a member of a River Plate fan group in Madrid. “It’s not going to be the same here. It’s like playing a Champions League final in a Latin American country.”
Added River fan Circe Sanabria: “Think about the 70,000 fans who waited for hours inside the stadium in Buenos Aires and couldn’t watch the match. The trophy of the Copa Libertadores shouldn’t be handed to a champion in Europe.”
Many in Argentina and other South America countries said it didn’t make sense to transfer to Spain the final of a tournament named after the men who helped free the American continent from European colonizers.
The Spanish government was already making security plans to guarantee spectators’ safety in Madrid. Argentine laws to curb violence meant no opposing fans are allowed in football stadiums, but CONMEBOL said Boca Juniors fans would be allowed at the Bernabeu, where River Plate was the host team.
It remained unclear, though, when tickets would be put on sale and who would have access to them.
“That’s the main question right now,” River Plate fan Gustavo Garcia-Mansilla said. “We are just nine days away from this match. It’s not going to be easy to get a hold of one of these tickets.”
The Bernabeu holds 10,000 more people than River’s stadium.
More than 250,000 Argentines are believed to live in Spain, with nearly 20,000 in Madrid alone, according to the Spanish government.
During the first leg of the final on Nov. 11, which ended 2-2, nearly 1,000 supporters from both teams gathered across Madrid to watch Argentina’s biggest home match since the 1978 World Cup final. Some River Plate fans marched through some of Madrid’s iconic sites, carrying flags and banners and chanting team songs.
Garcia-Mansilla, an Argentine who has lived in Madrid for nearly two decades, was glad the final was in his adopted hometown.
“This is like a miracle,” he said. “There will be a Boca-River match, in the final of the Copa Libertadores, in the city where I live. Not even in my wildest dreams I could have imagined this would happen. This final is a rare as Halley’s Comet, and they are bringing it to my city.”