Buenos Aires Times

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'Copa Conquistadores' - anger in Argentina over Libertadores final switch

Decision to switch River-Boca clash to Madrid met with anger and ridicule in Argentina.

Saturday 1 December, 2018
CONMEBOL President Alejandro Domínguez holds a press conference in Luque, near Asunción, Paraguay.
CONMEBOL President Alejandro Domínguez holds a press conference in Luque, near Asunción, Paraguay. Foto:NORBERTO DUARTE / AFP

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The first ever Copa Libertadores final between Argentina's two most popular clubs was supposed to be the "match of the century" and a festival of football that would propel the nation back into the spotlight following yet another World Cup debacle.

Well, Argentina is back in the spotlight. But for all the wrong reasons and the decision to play the twice-postponed Superclásico final second leg between rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors in the homeland of Latin America's colonisers, is a painful humiliation.

All over social media, the prestigious competition – the most important club tournament in South America – has been rechristened the "Copa Conquistadores de America."

In one meme on social media there is a picture of Christopher Columbus landing in South America to initiate the European colonisation of the Americas and holding aloft the Copa Libertadores trophy, whereas he's usually depicted with the flag of Spain's Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella of Castille and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.

"It's as if we weren't allowed to dance the tango. We're destroying football," lamented Gustavo Alfaro, the coach of Huracán. "We don't want hooligans or complicit authorities. They've no right to take River-Boca away from us."

Moved to Madrid

For the first time ever, a Copa Libertaodres final will be played outside the continent, with Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium picked as the unlikely venue.

It all came about because last weekend the original second leg clash at River's Monumental stadium – the first leg finished 2-2 at Boca's La Bombonera – was called off after Boca players were injured when their team bus came under attack from their rivals' fans. Windows were shattered, spraying players with broken glass while police fired tear gas to disperse the troublemakers, but that entered the team bus and left Boca's footballers suffering from smoke inhalation.

Boca refused to play the match and it was postponed 24 hours, only to then be called off indefinitely the next day. The Xeneize petitioned South American football's governing body CONMEBOL to be awarded the trophy but that was rejected on Thursday.

CONMEBOL, which is headquartered in Paraguay, decided Argentina was in no fit state to host such an important match (especially given this weekend's G20 Leaders Summit) and ordered it played elsewhere, with Real president Florentino Pérez jumping on the opportunity and offering use of the Bernabeu for free.

'Everybody lost'

"Why did they accept so easily that this match wouldn't be played in Argentina?" asked analyst Alejandro Wall on the Tiempo Argentina website. "What they're doing is stealing from Argentine football. And those who are punished are the 60,000 people who waited" in the Monumental stadium, not once but twice for hours on end hoping to watch the historic match, but to no avail.

For local sports newspaper Olé, "River lost, Boca lost, the country lost the possibility of having a party and we lost the fans: they took away the dream, the desire and the enthusiasm."

Diego Maradona, who won the league with Boca in 1981, was enraged.

"If the family of a fan wants to see the match, how does it pay to go to Madrid?" he said.

Evidently, some people have the means. Argentina's ambassador to Spain, Ramon Puerto told TyC Sports channel that "two airlines sold all their seats in three hours."

As for the match ticket price, it's expected to cost between US$100-US$300 at least.

Barra bravas fears

Worse still, some expect the hooligans blamed for causing the postponement to be among the 80,000 fans packing out the Bernabeu.

"It would be surprising if they didn't go in big numbers, from both clubs," said former player Jorge Valdano, a sociological writer.

That's a frightening proposition. Argentina's problem with football-related violence is well documented, with more than 300 people killed in the last 50 years, according to one charity.

The hooligans, known as "barra bravas," run mafia empires in cahoots with club bosses and corrupt cops. They're seen as a scourge but if anyone has the means and motivation to travel to the game, it will be the barra bravas, who control the ticket touting market.

As for Real's Argentine coach Santiago Solari, who began his career at River, it will be bittersweet watching the Libertadores final.

"It's an honor to give a good ending to such a fraught final," he said.

However, he pointed out that "the reasons that brought the match across an entire ocean have broken hearts."

Not only that, it's left an entire country aware of its impotence.

"The Madrid final is a kick in the soul of every Argentine football fan," said Ole.

"That it's being played in Madrid sounds great, but for the marketing; great for the global business of football; great for taking away the identity of a game that should be played in the humid, chaotic and our own Buenos Aires."

by Daniel Merolla, AFP

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