Sunday’s Copa Libertadores final has been postponed again, according to CONMEBOL president Alejandro Domínguez.
It had been rescheduled for today, but Dominguez said that the Boca Juniors players are not in condition to play the match following yesterday’s fan violence:
There will now be a meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay, on Tuesday to determine where and when the final will be played.
*** ORIGINAL STORY ***
It might very well be the biggest game in the history of South American club soccer. River Plate vs. Boca Juniors. Argentina’s fiercest rivalry, the Superclasico, in the Copa Libertadores final, for the first time ever – the “Superfinal.” The decisive second leg was set to kick off at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at River’s Monumental stadium.
But idiotic River Plate fans wouldn’t let it transpire in all its glory without violence. And the evening descended into chaos.
Hours before kickoff, River fans lined the streets surrounding the stadium, and attacked Boca Juniors’ bus on its way to the Monumental, injuring players and forcing officials to delay the much-anticipated match. This was the awful scene in the Boca dressing room upon arrival:
Despite the terror, and despite Boca officials making it clear that the club wanted the game postponed, and despite River agreeing with its rival, CONMEBOL – the South American soccer governing body – insisted the game be played Saturday. For hours, it held firm, twice announcing official delays.
But alas, it came to its senses, and postponed the match 24 hours, to Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.
Videos of the bus attack
A few hours before kickoff, as Boca’s bus sped toward the stadium to avoid trouble, River fans broke windows, and may or may not have used some sort of pepper spray or tear gas.
Here’s the traumatic video from inside the bus:
And from outside:
The driver of the bus later spoke to the media, and said he fainted during the attack, with Boca’s vice president taking the wheel out of necessity.
Video from inside the empty bus hours later showed the damage:
Boca Juniors players in distress, hospitalized
The bus arrived at the ground, but not without the attacks being felt. Boca players, including Carlos Tevez, disembarked in distress:
It’s unclear whether the pepper spray/tear gas came from River Plate supporters or police trying to disperse and dissuade the fans. Either way, it clearly affected players.
Local Argentine television reported that Boca Juniors players were vomiting in the locker room. The club’s secretary general said some players had been cut by glass, and were not in “any condition to play.” Some reports stated that Boca player Pablo Perez had shards of glass in his eye. Others said three players had to be hospitalized.
Perez, at the very least, was transported away from the stadium in an ambulance with injuries to his eye and leg. Gonzalo Lamardo was also treated for an eye injury:
Three or four players sustained physical damage. Perez had been ruled out for the game – had it gone ahead as planned. And despite those pictures, despite the clubs’ protests, and despite widespread criticism, CONMEBOL, for hours, argued that it had to.
CONMEBOL tried to force the clubs to play
Even after CONMEBOL’s announcements that kickoff would be pushed back, the presidents of the two clubs and confederation officials were locked in discussions over how to proceed. FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who was in attendance, reportedly joined them.
Throughout the chaotic hours, Boca Juniors remained firm in their position that the match should be postponed. After early discussions, River reportedly joined them, and took a similar stance: If you don’t want to play, we don’t either.
But CONMEBOL – perhaps for TV and sponsorship reasons, and perhaps at the urging of Infantino – was still pushing the clubs to play, and reportedly threatening them with financial penalties and competition bans.
Per reports, a CONMEBOL doctor examined Boca Juniors players to determine whether they were fit to play. The problem: Perez and other players couldn’t be examined, because they were at the hospital. The fraudulent doctor then reported back to CONMEBOL that he had found no evidence to suggest Boca couldn’t play.
With less than an hour to go until the rescheduled kickoff, Tevez and Fernando Gago emerged from the Boca Juniors locker room to speak to the media. “We are not in condition to play,” Tevez asserted, before saying that the players were being forced by CONMEBOL and FIFA to go ahead with the match.
Finally, at 5:20 ET, two hours and 20 minutes after the original start time, the game was postponed to Sunday. Some fans filed out of El Monumental peacefully. Others appeared to storm the bowels of the stadium in anger. Others were reportedly repelled by non-match-going fans prepared to loot the evening’s rubble:
Others simply sat still in disbelief.
Will the game actually be played Sunday?
CONMEBOL now says the game will be played Sunday – presumably back at El Monumental. But several complications now stand in its way.
In response to Saturday’s mayhem, the city of Buenos Aires moved to close the stadium to the public. Boca’s stadium, La Bombonera, is also closed after a Thursday open training session exceeded permitted capacity.
And not only does the match not have a practical location; Boca’s players believe Sunday is too soon for it after Saturday’s attack:
But CONMEBOL may still push the two clubs to play. And if it does, River can reportedly pay a fine Sunday morning in order to get the stadium re-opened. In which case we may have the “Superfinal” this weekend after all.
Or, if not, it could be played behind closed doors, at a neutral location. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps weeks from now. The G-20 Summit in Argentina next week poses a logistical nightmare if the second leg can’t be completed before it begins. Suddenly, there are dozens of unknowns.
The first leg, an absolute doozy, finished 2-2 at La Bombenera, home of Boca. On Thursday, two days before the second leg, Boca fans packed the stadium again … for training:
On Saturday, they gave their team a raucous sendoff.
But the day went awry around El Monumental. Police failed to control the scene, and later reportedly used rubber bullets in an attempt to quell River fans’ lawlessness.
The passion of both sets of supporters was marred by the bus attack – by the idiocy of a few. CONMEBOL very nearly took a difficult situation and made it worse – very nearly turned what should have been one of South American soccer’s most marvelous nights into one of its most embarrassing.
Instead, one of South American soccer’s most marvelous nights will merely materialize 24 hours later than it should have.
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