THE biggest showpiece occasion in the entire history of club football in South America has turned into a farce, and the authorities are stumbling around in search of a solution.
Those two great Buenos Aires rivals, Boca Juniors and River Plate, are meeting in the final of the Copa Libertadores, the continent’s Champions League.
It is the most high stakes occasion in over a century of intense rivalry, and it is proving too hot to handle.
The first leg, at Boca’s stadium was an exhilarating 2-2 draw.
The return game was scheduled for Saturday – until the Boca team bus was attacked on its approach to River’s stadium.
Some players suffered the effects of tear gas used by the police.
Others, especially captain Pablo Perez, picked up injuries from fragments of broken glass.
In such circumstances, there was no way that the game could take place on Saturday, and the long attempts to force it to happen were ill advised.
Any hope that it might happen on Sunday was dashed when Perez returned to hospital and was advised not to play.
At this point it was clear that Boca would not turn up.
The want two things: to wait until all the players affected by Saturday’s attack are fully recovered.
And for River to be held responsible for the actions of their fans and suffer a punishment – which could range from a fine, to the match being played at a neutral venue or behind closed doors.
They could even being kicked out of the competition and the title awarded to Boca.
This is payback time.
Copa Libertadores final could be played in Europe as Genoa make strong case for hosting the game
By JOE MILES
GENOA have offered to host the Copa Libertadores final because both teams have historical ties to the Italian city.
Chaos erupted in Argentina when River Plate hooligans ambushed the Boca Juniors team bus before the second leg.
The match was postponed twice this weekend but Genoa have invited both clubs to play at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
Stefano Anzalone, Genoa’s councillor for Sport, said: “We would be proud to welcome you to what, in a way, is your first home.”
Boca Juniors president Daniel Angelici and River Plate president Rodolfo D’Onofrio will go to Conmebol for a meeting on Tuesday.
The potential date for the second leg is now Demeber 8-10, before the Club World Cup semi-final – which the winner would be playing in.
READ MORE ABOUT GENOA’S INCREDIBLE BID TO HOST THE COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL
Three years ago the two sides met at an earlier stage of the competition.
At Boca’s stadium, River’s players were attacked — as they made their way back onto the field for the second half, a Boca fan sliced his way through the inflatable tunnel and threw pepper spray at them.
With River in no condition to continue, the game was abandoned and Boca were thrown out of the tournament.
River Plate will argue that this took place in Boca’s stadium.
Confusion reigned as the game was first delayed then postponed to Sunday, then postponed again
Saturday’s incident was outside the ground, and so the responsibility is not entirely theirs.
It is shared with an inadequate police operation.
They have a powerful ally in Alejandro Dominguez, the president of Conmebol, the local Uefa equivalent.
On Monday night Dominguez published an open letter calling on “all those involved in South American football to unite to put an end to violence, or else the violence will put an end to South American football.”
He attacked “the barbarism rotting in our football [which has] put many lives at risk.”
But he also made it clear that in his view the responsibility is not entirely that of River Plate.
“Clearly there was a failure of procedures and the authorities were not up to the circumstances,” he wrote.
It is obvious here that Dominguez is putting his weight behind the idea that the second game should go ahead, and that Boca should not be awarded the title on a forfeit.
There are solid commercial reasons for such an approach. Conmebol has been going through financial problems, its image badly affected by the fact that so many of its directors were caught up in the Fifa-gate scandal.
The appeal of Boca vs River is so huge that TV rights have been sold all around the world.
And so he makes an appeal: “I call upon the directors of River Plate and Boca Juniors to understand that their responsibility is not just to the colours of their club. Above all, they have a responsibility to South American football.”
This, of course, is an appeal mainly to Boca, in the hope that they will not attempt to win the trophy by the stroke of a pen.
But it also applies to River, hoping that they will accept their punishment should the Disciplinary Committee decide, for example, that the game should be played behind closed doors.
With so much at stake, Conmebol trust that the Buenos Aires Tweedledum and Tweedledee can continue their long quarrel on the football field, and not in the courtroom.