Football: Copa Libertadores final postponed for second time after bus attack; new date yet to be fixed

River Plate fans walk past police after the game between River Plate and Boca Juniors is postponed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Nov 25, 2018.
River Plate fans walk past police after the game between River Plate and Boca Juniors is postponed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Nov 25, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS
The Vespucio Liberti Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Nov 25, 2018.
The Vespucio Liberti Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Nov 25, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES (AFP/REUTERS) - The second leg of the Copa Libertadores final has been postponed for the second time in as many days following an attack on the Boca Juniors team bus by River Plate fans, organisers Conmebol said on Sunday (Nov 25). 

The match between the Buenos Aires arch-rivals was due to be played at 2000 GMT (4am Singapore time) on Sunday after initially being postponed on Saturday following the attack near River’s Monumental stadium, which left Boca players with injuries from shards of broken glass and suffering the effects of smoke inhalation.

“There isn’t a level playing field to play the final. That is why Conmebol have taken the decision to postpone the final of the Libertadores and to call a meeting of the presidents of both clubs in Asuncion to find a new date,” Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez said. 

Boca president Daniel Angelici said he would petition the governing body’s autonomous disciplinary commission to punish River, suggesting he may even be hoping his club are awarded victory by default. 

“Matches are won and lost on the pitch, that’s my personal perspective, but I have a responsibility as club president and that’s why I have to stick to the statute,” Angelici said at a press conference. 

Earlier on Sunday, Boca issued a statement requesting Conmebol not only postpone the match but also apply “the corresponding sanctions provided in Article 18”. Among the sanctions available under the governing body’s rules are “disqualification from competitions and exclusion from future competitions”.

‘Shameful image’

Three years ago, Conmebol used Article 18 to punish Boca after their fans attacked River players with pepper spray at half-time of a Copa Libertadores quarter-final tie. Boca were kicked out of the competition with River progressing.

On Saturday, Boca captain Pablo Perez and midfielder Gonzalo Lamardo required hospital treatment after River fans pelted their team bus with sticks and stones and doused it in pepper spray.

“We’ve given a shameful image to the world,” Dominguez said. 

 
 

The meeting between Boca president Angelici and his River counterpart Rodolfo D’Onofrio will take place on Tuesday at Conmebol’s headquarters in the Paraguayan capital Asuncion. 

Saturday’s attack initially moved Conmebol to announce that kick-off had been delayed but Boca players emerged from their dressing room to talk to the press and insisted they were in no condition to play. Veteran forward Carlos Tevez told Fox television: “They’re forcing us to play.”

Images had been circulating on Argentine television of players stepping off their team bus rubbing their eyes from the effects of the pepper spray, while others from inside their dressing room showed them being treated for cuts by doctors. 

When Perez returned from hospital, he was wearing a large white bandage over his left eye.

“Other team-mates have cuts. We’ve only just been able to breathe well because we were affected by the gas. We can’t play like this,” had said Tevez, a Copa Libertadores winner in 2003 during his first of three stints with Boca. 

Endemic violence 

When the scheduled kick-off time approached with still no sign of any players even coming out onto the pitch to warm-up, a feeling of deflation seemed to spread among fans inside the ground.

“It’s not easy to take this decision when there are 60,000 people in the stadium and the (television) rights have been sold to a ton of countries,” said Angelici after Conmebol announced on Saturday its decision to postpone the game for 24 hours.

D’Onofrio insisted, though, that “it’s the right decision”.

As fans left the ground on Saturday, scuffles broke out with police, leading to several arrests.

Argentina has a problem with football-related violence and more than 300 people have been killed over the last 50 years because of it, according to one charity. The endemic violence led Argentine authorities in 2013 to ban away fans from all matches in the country. 

It was the first time Argentina’s two biggest clubs had met for the title. The cross-town showdown had been billed as the greatest final in the competition’s 58-year history.

But Saturday’s scheduled final will instead be remembered for the violence that left players bleeding and almost all the windows on one side of the Boca bus shattered.

The incident was a black eye for some of the Argentine security forces who will be responsible for keeping the city calm during a meeting of the leaders of the G-20 bloc of industrialised nations on Friday (Nov 30). 

“We are prepared for the G-20. We have faith,” Jorge Faurie, Argentina’s foreign minister, said on television. 

Faith in Conmebol was meanwhile running short among fans. 

“We’re furious. You waste so much time and money. It takes a while to get here. The police treat you badly. You have to park far away. You don’t know if your car is going to get broken into,” said Ayrton da Silva, who was at the stadium when the postponement was announced. 

“Conmebol ’s organisation?” said his exasperated father Luiz da Silva. “The likelihood of this game being postponed was 85 per cent. How do you take this decision now? It should have been made at 10 o’clock this morning. But well, this is Argentina.”

Some fans came from overseas to see the game. There was no word from Conmebol on when it might be rescheduled, while city authorities scrambled to explain what had happened. 

“There is something that is very difficult to guard against: human stupidity,” Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta told reporters. He blamed football hooligans, known as the “barras bravas” in Argentina, for the mess. 

“They are the mafia of Argentine soccer,” he said.

Conmebol’s Dominguez said he would meet the heads of both clubs during the coming week to discuss rescheduling.