South American football’s governing body have thrown in the towel. They are incapable of staging the biggest annual game on their own continent.
A confederation of 10 nations can’t find anywhere safe enough for River Plate and Boca Juniors to complete their Copa Libertadores final after proving incapable of securing the streets for the abandoned second leg in Buenos Aires. The tournament named after the “liberators” of South America from Spanish rule is now reliant on the old colonial conqueror.
“They are teams from a country and a part of the world which is obviously is very closely tied to Spain,” Spanish Football Association President Luis Rubiales said recently. “So we are really pleased.”
But it’s humiliating for Alejandro Domínguez, CONMEBOL president, that “his final to end all finals” will be played so far away.
With the Superclásico final enjoying unprecedented global hype, CONMEBOL reveled in stoking the already fierce rivalry between the teams. But it proved far from competent in responding to the dangerous upshot. CONMEBOL failed in its duty to the players.
The body’s concern seemed to be ensuring a game was played and its trophy handed out. It was obvious the game should have been abandoned immediately, when the extent of the violence became apparent.
Rocks, bottles and wood had just been hurled at the Boca bus on that infamous afternoon. Did CONMEBOL really think players were in a fit state to take to the field?
Domínguez prevaricated rather than showing the leadership required in an organisation still on a mission to regain its credibility after corruption scandals.
River coach Marcelo Gallardo flouted a ban from carrying out his duties at the semifinal second leg against Brazil’s Gremio by appearing in the dressing room. River midfielder Bruno Zuculini played in the round of 16 despite a suspension. But the Millo remained in the competition despite the transgressions, setting the tone for the bungled management of the final.
Domínguez’s command is now cast in an even harsher spotlight.
Ahead of the game, with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in town, Domínguez seemed more preoccupied trying to preen on the world stage by reshaping the global game rather than focusing on matters closer to home.
The Paraguayan went public in asking for the World Cup to be played every two years. The Copa Libertadores chaos showed just why Domínguez might prefer FIFA to be organising more events rather than his own staff.
And after floating a proposal that will rile European football leaders at UEFA, Domínguez has now been bailed out by the continent to save his final.
“In Spain we find the necessary tranquility,” he said. “I don’t think the essence of the Libertadores will be lost because the game will be played in Spain.”
When the match finally kicks off this weekend, the Game of the Century will have taken a month to complete. And CONMEBOL could be paying the price even longer for its dereliction of management.