Re­booted Lib­er­ta­dores fi­nal a treat for Madrid soured by re­gret

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - SPORT -

MADRID: Six thousand miles away and 15 days later than planned, the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores fi­nal be­tween Boca Ju­niors and River Plate will be con­cluded.

There have been re­fusals, com­plaints and threats to go to court, but the play­ers of Boca and River, Ar­gentina’s two great­est foot­ball ri­vals, landed in Madrid and all in­di­ca­tions are the sec­ond leg will be played.

Both teams trained on Thurs­day, Boca at the Span­ish na­tional team’s base at Las Rozas and River at Real Madrid’s Valde­be­bas, with the play­ers ap­pear­ing in good spir­its, laugh­ing and jok­ing, jump­ing on each other’s backs.

There was even a smat­ter­ing of fans wait­ing out­side, some hold­ing flags or note­books open for au­to­graphs, even if it was a world away from the rock­ing Bom­bon­era, packed out for an open train­ing ses­sion be­fore the orig­i­nal fix­ture was due last month.

That game had to be post­poned, three times, after River fans in­jured Boca play­ers dur­ing an at­tack on their team’s bus. It could have been can­celled, or awarded to Boca, but CONMEBOL, the South Amer­i­can foot­ball fed­er­a­tion, chose to re­lo­cate to Spain.

A fi­nal at the San­ti­ago Bern­abeu should be some­thing to savour, par­tic­u­larly when it is the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores at stake on Sun­day, the most pres­ti­gious prize in South Amer­i­can club foot­ball.

In­stead, as play­ers fin­ished train­ing and spoke to jour­nal­ists, the sense of re­gret be­came clear. “It is a weird fi­nal,” said Car­los Tevez, once of Manch­ester United and Manch­ester City, and now a striker for Boca. “To play a match be­tween Boca and River in Madrid, it’s weird.”

River goal­keeper Franco Ar­mani said: “We would have liked to play the game at home, on our pitch, in front of our fans, who de­serve it, but the de­ci­sion is made. We have to make the best of it.”

CONMEBOL pointed to Madrid as a “neu­tral” host city, with the largest Ar­gen­tinian com­mu­nity out­side Ar­gentina, and a long and suc­cess­ful tradition of foot­ball. It will host the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal in June too.

For many, how­ever, this was the most im­por­tant match in Ar­gentina’s his­tory and its re­moval a na­tional em­bar­rass­ment. After all, the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores was named after those that se­cured in­de­pen­dence from coun­tries like Spain in the early nine­teenth cen­tury.

“Un­for­tu­nately for me, this match has lost im­por­tance in my heart,” said Real Madrid’s Ar­gen­tinian coach San­ti­ago So­lari on Wed­nes­day.

Boca and River had ini­tially re­fused. Boca be­lieve River should have for­feited the tro­phy and have said they will take the case to the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport. De­pend­ing on the re­sult this week­end, they still might. - AFP

Car­los Tevez ar­rived in Madrid with the rest of his Boca Ju­niors team-mates on Wed­nes­day. - AFP photo

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