Copa Libertadores finally set for finale in Madrid
MADRID — Two weeks ago, River Plate fan Gigi Gibson travelled more than 10,000 kilometres to watch the Copa Libertadores final in Argentina.
On Sunday, she will travel less than 10 kilometres from her home to attend the final in Madrid.
Gibson was among 70,000 spectators who waited in vain for hours at River’s Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires for the second leg of the much-hyped “final of all finals” that didn’t happen. Outside the stadium, River fans attacked the Boca team bus with rocks, wood and bottles and injured players.
The match was postponed twice then controversially transferred for security reasons to Spain, where Gibson suddenly found herself getting ready to watch it in her “backyard.”
“I live two train stations from the Bernabeu,” Gibson told The Associated Press. “I can’t believe they decided to play this match here.” Neither can many others.
Yet, the 80,000-seat Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is expected to be packed on Sunday to complete a final four weeks after the thrilling first leg at Boca’s La Bombonera Stadium finished 2-2.
Lionel Messi is expected to be there, and there was a chance Cristiano Ronaldo would be, too, along with a multitude of soccer dignitaries from across the globe.
River fan Gustavo Garcia-mansilla, who has lived in Spain for nearly two decades, wouldn’t be able to watch the final if it was played in Buenos Aires as originally planned. He called it a “miracle” it was moved to Madrid.
“Watching a River vs. Boca is something everyone needs to do at least once in life,” he said. “It’s like visiting the Eiffel Tower or the Sistine Chapel. And to watch a match of this importance in a venue like the Bernabeu, nothing can be compared to that.”
But the backlash for taking the game away from South America still reverberates in Spain.
“It’s a weird feeling to play the final of the Copa Libertadores in the Bernabeu,” Boca Juniors forward Carlos Tevez said. “It’s sad we can’t play this match in our own country. I don’t think it should have been played here.”