Don’t cry for mean soccer fans in Argentina

The relatively peaceful first leg of the final.
The relatively peaceful first leg of the final.
Image: REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
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The Copa Libertadores final is the biggest match in South American club soccer. And this year was something special. For the first time in the 58 years of the competition, River Plate and Boca Juniors—two arch-rivals from Buenos Aires—would meet to determine the best team on the continent.

What was supposed to be a crowning achievement has turned into a disaster. Despite having two Argentine teams, the final is now being moved away from Argentina for safety reasons.

The first leg of the final was postponed a day due to heavy floods. When it took place on Nov. 11, the game seemed to go well enough, ending in a 2-2 draw at Boca’s La Bombonera stadium. In fact, Boca’s fans were the only ones there. The away fans were banned from both legs to keep the peace, which is sadly a common-enough occurrence in Argentine league soccer. (In fact, away fans were just let in to most Superliga club games again this season after a five-year ban.)

The second leg was supposed to take place on Nov. 24. But on their way to River’s Monumental stadium, Boca’s players were attacked in their team bus. The windows were smashed and glass cut the faces and eyes of  players, including captain Pablo Perez. Tear gas and pepper spray were used to disperse the mobs.

The Boca players made it to the stadium and mobile-phone footage showed them woozy, unable to stand and reportedly vomiting after the attack. Some were photographed with their eyes bandaged.

The game was postponed for 24 hours. The mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, blamed the attack on the Barra Brava, the fanatical ultras of the River support.

Then, on Nov. 25, the game was postponed again three hours before kickoff. Now, the South American soccer body has announced that the second leg will take place on Dec. 8 or 9—but outside the country. It has not announced any more details.

Perhaps we could have seen this coming, with an unprecedented meeting in one of world soccer’s fiercest rivalries taking place under high-pressure conditions. Neither set of fans could bear the shame of losing. The omens were never good.

In 2015, a last-16 Copa Libertadores match between River and Boca had to be abandoned at halftime after Boca fans attacked the River players. Players and the managers are regularly escorted on and off the pitch by police in riot gear when they meet.

Forcing an Argentine showpiece to moved out of the country is another thing altogether. The biggest club match in the 127-year history of Argentine soccer has turned into its most shameful episode.