Spain to host controversial Copa Libertadores final between River and Boca

The match was suspended twice in Argentina after fans turned violent and injured rival players

River fans at Monumental stadium last Saturday.
River fans at Monumental stadium last Saturday.Marcos Brindicci (REUTERS)

Spain has agreed to host the soccer final of the Copa Libertadores between Argentina teams River Plate and Boca Juniors. The match will take place on December 9 at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid.

The final in Madrid is a punch in the soul to all fans of soccer in Argentina

Online sports daily Ole

The final was set to take place in Argentina but was suspended twice after fans turned violent. The first time, on November 25, riot police were called in after supporters of River began throwing stones and bottles at the bus carrying Boca players. Pepper spray used to control the crowds ended up affecting members of the soccer team. The players later shared photos of their injuries. The match was rescheduled but again had to be suspended after fans descended into violence.

In view of the insecurity, the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol), which organizes the competition, decided the only solution was to hold the game in a different country. On Thursday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Spain would be “willing to organize the Copa Libertadores final between River and Boca” in a message on Twitter, and an hour later Conmebol president Alejandro Domínguez confirmed the game would take place in Madrid.

This was how Boca arrived at Monumental stadium. The security that got between the all people of River was terrible. Players shouldn't have to make gesture, they should play. The police did not control the situation and then pepper gas was thrown. Unbelievable. Fifth world.

This is the first time a Copa Libertadores game has been played outside the Americas since the competition began in 1960. Domínguez however was positive about the decision: “[Madrid] has the largest Argentine community overseas, Barajas is the airport with the best connection to Latin America, and it is a city with a great soccer culture.”

But the feeling in Argentina has been less optimistic. The national newspaper La Nación wrote that “it represents, in some way, the structural failure of our soccer, which is unable to organize the best final in the history of the [Copa] Libertadores.” Online sports daily Ole agreed: “The final in Madrid is a punch in the soul to all fans of soccer in Argentina. Ten thousands kilometers away, River-Boca is an unhappy attempt to transform the classic into a Champions League event.” According to a survey run by Ole, 76% of respondents think it is bad that the game has been moved to Spain.

Security risk

In a message on Twitter, Sánchez promised that "security forces have extensive experience of these situations and are already working on the necessary deployments to ensure the event is secure." Despite these assurances, there are concerns there is not enough time to properly secure the event. According to sources familiar with the security operations, between four and six weeks are needed to analyze the security needs of high-risk sporting stadiums and the ensuing preparations can take up to eight months. In the case of the Copa Libertadores final, security officials will have just days to prepare.

River and Boca have a long-standing rivalry fueled largely by the class divide between the teams – River attracts wealthy, upper-class supporters while Boca is known for its working-class fans.

Scheduling issues

The final will take place on Sunday, December 9, on the final day of a three-day national holiday in Spain for Constitution Day on December 6. Madrid receives its highest number of visitors in these dates. In 2017, 600,000 visitors came to the capital, and the hotel occupancy rate was over 80%.

Conmebol president Alejandro Domínguez on Tuesday.
Conmebol president Alejandro Domínguez on Tuesday.

Many details about the game have yet to be revealed, including how tickets will be sold, what system will be used and who can buy tickets. In Argentina, fans of the visiting team are banned from the stadiums.

Conmebol and soccer club representatives began considering destinations for the match on Tuesday including Doha, the capital of Qatar and the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which offered attractive economic incentives and Miami, which was ruled out by the US Soccer Federation.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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