Lib­er­ta­dores Cup

World Soccer - - Contents -

The mil­i­tary ma­chines rolled down the Castella early on Sun­day morn­ing, ar­moured ve­hi­cles pulling up on the city’s big­gest, most em­blem­atic av­enue. Above, he­li­copters hov­ered. Police stood, fin­gers on the trig­gers of guns, while snipers took up po­si­tions on rooftops. Peo­ple walked down the mid­dle of the road, closed off to cars. As the day went on, more and more of them came, head­ing to­wards the San­ti­ago Bern­abeu Sta­dium.

Real Madrid’s home has hosted the Span­ish Cup Fi­nal – al­beit they have re­fused in re­cent years, as Barcelona have found their way there – the Champions League Fi­nal and the World Cup Fi­nal. It was there that Spain won their first Euro­pean ti­tle, de­feat­ing the Soviet Union. And ev­ery year it hosts the world’s big­gest club match, be­tween the planet’s big­gest clubs. Well, maybe the sec­ond big­gest per­haps...

If Madrid-Barca is the Cla­sico, Bo­caRiver is the Su­per­cla­sico. And this was the big­gest, most in­tense Su­per­cla­sico of them all: River ver­sus Boca in the Fi­nal of the Lib­er­ta­dores Cup, the tro­phy named af­ter those who lib­er­ated South Amer­ica, now packed up and played in the cap­i­tal of the old im­pe­rial power. Some called it the Copa Con­quis­ta­dores. The Bern­abeu had seen it all, but noth­ing quite like this.

There had been a fight for the game to be can­celled, a de­ci­sion placed be­fore a judge, but it went ahead in the end. The never-end­ing match fi­nally ended in Madrid – 10,000km from where it was sup­posed to be played, af­ter Boca’s bus was at­tacked, win­dows smashed and play­ers hurt.

It was two weeks late and it had taken five at­tempts. It had taken four fan­tas­tic goals and ex­tra time too, with the game still in the balance un­til the last sec­ond, the ball hit­ting one post and then be­ing run up the other end and into an empty net, with the Boca goal­keeper caught out at­tack­ing. I had seen a bi­b­li­cal storm and trou­ble on the streets, police charges, shots fired, tear-gas too. Its im­pact will be felt for years, and ev­ery­where. But it was, even­tu­ally, over. “As far as I’m con­cerned, it’s fin­ished,” said Boca boss Guillermo Bar­ros

Sch­e­lotto. “River won.”

So did Spain. Whether it was right that it ever had the chance to is an­other is­sue but that was the con­clu­sion.

“River reigned on Di Ste­fano’s field,” as the sports daily AS put it. Its front cover ran: “River won, Madrid won.” The sta­dium had be­come the cen­tre of world foot­ball, host­ing a game at­tended by play­ers from Ju­ven­tus, Bayern Mu­nich, Barcelona and Madrid. Li­onel Messi was there, An­toine Griez­mann too. Diego Sime­one showed. As did politi­cians, judges and celebri­ties. It had be­come an event as much as a match.

Madrid had been of­fered up as a solution and CONMEBOL leapt at it. Many in Spain cel­e­brated the fact, which al­ways felt a lit­tle grubby, given

the glee­ful­ness of it all. How­ever well it went, it al­ways felt like this would be tinged with sad­ness at the way that it had been taken from its right­ful place, and at the rea­sons why it was taken – some of which are still de­bated, some of which were painfully clear.

There were some con­cerns, of course. Much was made of the se­cu­rity set up, the police op­er­a­tion, of barra bravas turned away at Bara­jas air­port, of the pos­si­ble prob­lems. The mil­i­tary set up on the Sun­day was un­like any­thing ever seen, even in 2010 when In­ter­nazionale met Bayern. The streets were closed, se­cu­rity checks in­tense, queues start­ing a long way from the sta­dium.

And it worked. Or maybe it was sim­pler than that; maybe peo­ple just be­haved per­fectly. There was no trou­ble, which the Span­ish were proud of, keen to stress that the polic­ing had been ef­fec­tive and so had the lo­gis­tics. Spain had shown it could host a huge event and at short no­tice, which will be good for when the World Cup bid comes – which it will. At the same time, hand­ily for Spain, maybe Ar­gentina had shown that they could not.

There had also been over 40m gen­er­ated by the week­end, or so the fig­ures said. Spain had put on a show, and they were de­lighted with it. The doubts had been for­got­ten.

Few in Spain ques­tioned whether it was right, still less when a suc­cess­ful night came to an end. It had cer­tainly been fun. They felt that they had handed out a les­son, of­fered up an im­pec­ca­ble im­age of the coun­try.

They al­ways hoped that might be the case and from the start there had been a sense of cu­rios­ity and civic pride; they had re­ally em­braced the oc­ca­sion.

The game was in­fused with a huge im­por­tance: for a week or more, South Amer­ica’s big­gest game eclipsed all else in Spain, dom­i­nat­ing media cov­er­age, fill­ing hours on the ra­dio and pages in the pa­pers: a dozen daily in the sports ti­tles, and the first dozen too.

Tick­ets had sold in­stantly when they were of­fered to Real Madrid mem­bers and then to the pub­lic in Spain, al­though it soon be­came clear that some had snapped them up hop­ing to cash in. Dif­fi­cul­ties in trav­el­ling for the match and the cost of the tick­ets – 80 was the cheapest – meant that the mar­ket was not even­tu­ally quite as buoy­ant as they had an­tic­i­pated. As the game ap­proached, more tick­ets were dis­creetly of­fered up, more put on sale. The Span­ish pa­pers de­clared that the sta­dium had been full, but the up­per cen­tre of the two ends had been cov­ered with a tar­pau­lin.

There were over 70,000 there,

“Spain had shown it could host a huge event and at short no­tice, which will be good for when the World Cup bid comes – which it will”

though. River oc­cu­pied the north stand, Boca the south. In the­ory, they had around 7,000 tick­ets each. Spain’s Ar­gen­tinian pop­u­la­tion helped fill the other seats, while Boca and River fans from the rest of Europe trav­elled too. Spaniards – and Euro­peans – bought tick­ets, keen to see some­thing unique, an op­por­tu­nity they would never have again.

Only what they were buy­ing – the most pas­sion­ate clash in the world, the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of Ar­gentina, the se­duc­tion of some­thing un­tamed, so dif­fer­ent to what the game here had be­come – was not what they found.

It was noisy, very noisy, like the big­gest Champions League games at the Bern­abeu, al­though it in­evitably lacked some of the au­then­tic­ity of Ar­gentina. It lacked the para­pher­na­lia too: the fire­works, the flags, the ban­ners, the ticker tape. It lacked none of the pas­sion on the pitch though, right to the last sec­ond.

And then River’s fans headed into the Puerta del Sol to cel­e­brate their Lib­er­ta­dores ti­tle in an­other city and an­other con­ti­nent, over 6,000 miles from El Mon­u­men­tal.

Watch­ful...riot police ob­serve Boca Ju­niors sup­port­ers mak­ing their way to the San­ti­ago Bern­abeu“As far as I’m con­cerned, it’s fin­ished River won” Boca coach Guillermo Bar­ros Sch­e­lotto

Vic­to­ri­ous... cel­e­bra­tions in Madrid

River party...police in Buenos Aires try to dis­perse fans wait to ac­cess the sta­dium

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