River and Boca face off in Copa de­cider

Boca, River stars lament Madrid move, prom­ise to do their best in Lib­er­ta­dores ti­tle show­down

Bangkok Post - - SPORTS -

>> 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 to­day, 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.

River, mean­while, have lost the home ad­van­tage en­joyed by Boca in the first leg, which fin­ished 2-2, not to men­tion eco­nomic ben­e­fits, de­spite Conmebol pledg­ing to com­pen­sate them for any rev­enue missed.

“It was the se­cu­rity sys­tem that failed, ab­so­lutely and to­tally,” River’s club pres­i­dent Rodolfo D’Onofrio told El Pais on Fri­day. “River are the vic­tims.”

Most de­prived, how­ever, are per­haps the thou­sands of fans let down and then left at home in Ar­gentina. Some have trav­elled, in­clud­ing Agustin Gi­a­cone, one Boca sup­porter who ar­rived in Madrid on Wed­nes­day. “It’s go­ing to be a great party,” he said. “Ar­gen­tini­ans don’t want to spoil the name of Ar­gentina any­more.”

Boca coach Guillermo Bar­ros Sch­e­lotto be­lieves restora­tion will take longer. “We need time,” he said on Fri­day. “We need matches of this qual­ity played in Ar­gentina or South Amer­ica to show that we have ma­tured.”

For each club, the 20,000 tick­ets al­lo­cated to fans in Spain and else­where sold out within hours but some of the 5,000 for res­i­dents in Ar­gentina re­main avail­able. The cost, and short no­tice, is likely to have put them off.

In­side the sta­dium, a va­cant block of seats will act as a buf­fer be­tween the two sets of sup­port­ers. Out­side, the Paseo de la Castel­lana, the road that runs from the city cen­tre to the sta­dium, will be closed off from 9am lo­cal time, as po­lice seek to keep them sep­a­rate. Around 2,500 po­lice of­fi­cers are ex­pected to at­tend.

If the match goes off peace­fully, Conmebol will claim suc­cess, not least as broad­cast­ers all over the world will have shown the fix­ture they paid for.

For Spain, there would be a boost to their 2030 World Cup bid, at the di­rect ex­pense of the Uruguay-Ar­gentina-Paraguay ticket, an­other lead con­tender. La Liga, in­tent on stag­ing matches in the United States, will feel its cause has greater prece­dent.

River Plate fan Ger­man Lopez, left, poses with his brother and Boca Ju­niors sup­porter Gon­zalo Lopez in front of Real Madrid’s San­ti­ago Bern­abeu sta­dium.

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