Remember when the Boca-River final was going to be something so epic the future of South American football and the nation of Argentina as a whole would be changed forever? Remember when we were promised two breathtaking matches that would be viewed by football fans all around the world? Remember when Argentina’s President petitioned to allow visiting fans into the stadiums to prove Argentine football fans can be mature and civilized? Remember the small club in Bell Ville, Córdoba named River Plate who plays in a Boca colored kit that proved to us that peace in a Superclásico could be possible? Remember those days when we knew a date, time, and location for the Libertadores final?
With all that has happened over the past four days, it’s hard to remember that at one point, there was actually supposed to be a football match – and not just any match, one that could change to course of football history. But all that has been forgotten.
Call it chaos, bedlam, pandemonium, insanity – whatever word you would like to use to describe it – the 2018 Copa Libertadores final has been unforgettable, and not for any of the reasons we had hoped for.
If you too have found this entire mess to be more annoying than educational, don’t worry, those of us who have less of a life than you do can bring you up to speed on the latest Copa Libertadores news. Everything is still up in the air, but as of today, here is what we know, or better said, what we think we know based on what has been reported. Buckle up, it’s about to get real boring.
Why was the match not played? What happened?
The second leg of the Copa Libertadores final was scheduled to take place at El Monumental, River Plate’s stadium, on Saturday November 24th. A few hours before kickoff, a bus carrying Boca’s team was in route to the stadium. As it approached, a group of River fans began throwing rocks, glass bottles, and some sort of gas substance at the bus. A handful of windows were smashed and two Boca players, most significantly, their captain Pablo Pérez, were injured. Several other players were effected by the gas and were in visible discomfort. Boca claimed they were in no position to play.
The match was originally delayed one hour, and then two, and finally suspended until Sunday. As Sunday rolled around Boca stood their ground that they were still in no condition to play and the match was again suspended.
Representatives from both teams met at CONMEBOL headquarters in Paraguay to determine if and when a match would be played.
Will there be a second leg?
Yes. After meeting Tuesday morning, CONMEBOL released a statement that the second leg will be played either December 8th or 9th. Boca however, will appeal this decision. President Daniel Angelici has requested that River be disqualified, and the title be handed to his club. Boca has stated that their players do not feel safe and there is also precedent for a walkover win to be awarded.
In 2015 Boca and River played in the Copa Libertadores round of 16, yes this was not the first time the two have met in the tournament, just the first time they have met in the final. River won the first leg in El Monumental 1-0. The second match was played at La Bombonera and as the River squad emerged from the locker room for the second half, Boca fans spayed some sort of gas or other irritant substance on the River players making it impossible for them to continue with the match. Boca were disqualified, River awarded victory and would subsequently go on to win the Copa Libertadores. Boca was fined, and fans were banned from attending the next several matches.
So, if River was awarded the victory in 2015, shouldn’t Boca be crowned champions?
This is exactly what Boca is arguing. Even though both cases have their similarities, there are some significant differences. First, this is the final, like it or not, CONMEBOL does not want to award their trophy to one team without even playing the match.
Second, the incident in 2015 occurred inside of Boca’s stadium. Once it moves inside the team’s grounds, the security of the fans and players falls upon the club. The incident last Saturday took place in route to, but outside of River’s stadium – the city of Buenos Aires is at fault for the poor execution of security, not River.
Third, only one of Boca’s starters was injured. Pablo Pérez sustained injuries to his eye, one report stating that he currently has lost 60% of his vision, but it is expected that the injury will be healed and should not keep him out the final if played in two weeks. When River was hit with gas, the majority of the starting 11 would not have been able to continue.
And fourth, River were leading on aggregate with 45 minutes remaining in 2015; on this occasion the second leg hasn’t kicked off and the score is still level.
If Boca is not awarded the title and the match is played, will it take place at El Monumental?
No. While the location has not yet been determined, we do know that it will not be played at El Monumental or at any stadium in Argentina.
Where will it be played?
We don’t know. Currently it sounds like Asunción, Paraguay is the leading candidate but both Miami and Abu Dhabi have also been thrown into the mix.
Will there be fans at the stadium and will they be River fans?
We don’t know. Nothing about the fans has been mentioned yet by CONMEBOL.
And what happens if Boca refuses to play?
Sorry to be repetitive, but, we don’t know. If CONMEBOL orders Boca to play and they still refuse to do so, which is their current stance, one can only imagine River would be awarded the title, but that is pure speculation.
One additional wrench that has been thrown into this mess is that Boca players Carlos Tevez, Ramón Ábila, and Pablo Pérez could potentially be suspended for the final, if there is a final, for insulting CONMEBOL officials. No punishments have yet been determined, but more fuel has been added to the already tumultuous fire – a fire that may end up burning down Buenos Aires.
So now what?
We wait and see. CONMEBOL has proven in the past to be unpredictable. There is no way we can know what will happen. We should all expect more twists and turns over the next couple of weeks. If a match is played, it’s unfortunate that it will not be at El Monumental or even in the country. A final between the two biggest clubs in Argentina not being played in Argentina feels wrong. But actions bring consequences, and here we all are.
The above has barely scratched the surface of everything that has happened over the past few days and weeks. It cannot be stressed enough that these are two of the most passionate groups of fans in the world. Both sides have their arguments and conspiracies and both believe they are right. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
For the latest news on what’s happening, I encourage you to read and follow those twitter accounts that are trustworthy and not spewing biased rhetoric. The following should be a good start:
Jimmy lived in Córdoba, Argentina as a teenager and is still an active Socio for his beloved club, Belgrano. He currently lives in Seattle, WA and loves to write about football when he has a break from work and family. He also runs the Belgrano – English twitter account.