Boca-River Libertadores final postponed again after attack
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The Copa Libertadores final between fierce Argentine rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate was postponed again Sunday in a major embarrassment for South American football, a day after Boca players were injured in an attack by River fans.
The game — the continent’s equivalent of Europe’s Champions League final — had already been put back from Saturday to Sunday after River fans threw stones, sticks and bottles at Boca’s team bus. The attack took place just blocks from the Monumental de Nunez Stadium, adding another chapter to Argentina’s long history of soccer-related violence and increasing security concerns just days before the country hosts a G-20 summit of world leaders.
South American soccer body CONMEBOL said on Sunday that the second leg of the final will be rescheduled, but did not give a date or say whether the venue would be changed. It will meet to discuss the details in its headquarters at the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion on Tuesday.
“We have to analyze a sports inequality. The conditions cannot be met — a team has been attacked,” CONMEBOL president Alejandro Dominguez said. “The image shown to the world because of the actions of a few misfits is embarrassing. This is not what soccer is about.”
Boca asked the soccer body earlier Sunday to suspend the game and sanction River for the behavior of its fans.
The first leg on Nov. 11 ended 2-2 at Boca’s La Bombonera Stadium. It was originally scheduled to be held Nov. 10 but was delayed 24 hours due to heavy rain.
“I feel pain, just like any other River and Boca fan because 15 people and some security mistake caused this,” said River President Rodolfo D’Onofrio.
Boca said in a statement that it told CONMEBOL the two Buenos Aires teams would not be playing under equal conditions after the attack on Saturday. Team captain and midfielder Pablo Perez had an eye injured by shattered glass.
Boca also said it wants River to be punished after the attack, including possible disqualification and the title being awarded to Boca.
“I’m convinced that these games are played and won on the field, but sometimes I have to refrain from what I think personally and stick to the statutes” said Boca President Daniel Angelici.
“We hope that (CONMEBOL’s) disciplinary tribunal reviews and answers our demand.”
On Saturday, River had already opened the stadium’s gates and thousands of fans waited in the stands for kickoff when they heard through the loudspeakers that the game had been postponed. FIFA President Gianni Infantino was also there for the highly anticipated final. Ahead of the game he called it “incredible, fantastic, spectacular,” and said that the world would need “to make up new words for this match.” But the excitement fizzled when news of the attack surfaced.
Instead of watching what had been called “The Game of the Century,” Infantino rushed to meet club and CONMEBOL officials inside the stadium’s offices to try to contain the chaos.
Several Boca players were injured by the attack and some also suffered the consequences of police use of tear gas and pepper spray outside the vehicle.
Boca captain Pablo Perez and teenager Gonzalo Lamardo were taken to nearby hospitals, where fans gathered in support. Perez had injuries to his arms and an eye, according to images of Boca’s locker room shared on social media. Lamardo had trouble breathing because of the gas.
One medical doctor, Alejandro Weremczuk, examined Perez and Lamardo and said they should not play.
“The recommendation for any person with an eye injury is not to play, to rest at a place that is proper for the healing,” Weremczuk, a River fan, told TV channel Todo Noticias.
After the match was postponed on Saturday, some of the more than 66,000 River fans also tried to storm the teams’ locker rooms. Others clashed with police outside.
The violence came just days before Argentina hosts a summit in its capital city that will feature U.S. President Donald Trump and several other leaders of the G-20 industrialized nations.
Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta said Sunday that an internal investigation was launched to determine responsibility among police, but he blamed the incident on violent fans.
Soccer violence is common in South America — and parts of Europe. In Argentina, the problem is deeply rooted in so-called “barras bravas,” organized groups that have alleged connections to clubs, powerful politicians and the police. They operate with near impunity, scalping tickets, profiteering from parking near stadiums and fighting rival gangs for control inside and outside the stadiums.
Boca fans could not attend the final at the Monumental Stadium because of a 2013 ban on away fans in Argentina aimed at reducing soccer violence.
“We were clearly at a disadvantage yesterday and at a sporting disadvantage today,” Boca coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto told reporters at a hotel where the team had gathered.
Outside, hundreds of fans in the club’s blue and gold colors waved flags and taunted River fans with chants.
“It was best for Boca not to play, we’re not in the same conditions,” Barros Schelotto said. “What we’ve lived through has nothing to do with a Libertadores Cup final … regardless of whether it’s against River or any other team, both teams have to reach the final under equal conditions.”
The chaos surrounding Saturday’s incident is being compared to another game involving the two bitter rivals in the Round of 16 of the 2015 Copa Libertadores.
In a match at Boca’s stadium, fans doused River players with pepper spray in the tunnel before they entered the field. Several incurred eye injuries and had trouble breathing. CONMEBOL ruled that River was the winner and advanced to the next phase. Boca had its stadium suspended from international competitions and also was given a financial penalty.
“What’s happening in my country is regrettable because we don’t have any respect for anything. It’s all excessive,” said soccer great Diego Maradona, who captained Argentina to the 1986 World Cup and who is now a coach in Mexico.
“In today’s Argentina, it’s terrifying to step out on the field.”