Why not Doha, Qatar? We’ll play it on December 8th. Ok then, Qatar! Spread the word everyone.
Actually… maybe Madrid. Yeah, and let’s do it on December 9th. So, it’s settled, Madrid. Yes, Madrid.
And that is where we currently stand. Everything is pointing to a Copa Libertadores final between Boca and River to be played at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, Spain.
How did we come to this? As reported on Tuesday, CONMEBOL met and agreed on three things: First, there would be a final. Second, it would be on either December 8th or 9th. And third, it would not be played in Argentina. It took a roundabout way to get to where we are now, but on Thursday night, CONMEBOL released an official statement that the Copa Libertadores final would be played in Madrid on Sunday, December 9th.
The first reaction of most Argentines was to find the humor in the whole thing. The Copa Libertadores is named after those, including José de San Martín, Simón Bolivar, Manuel Belgrano, and others, who liberated the South American nations from the old-world country that colonized them, Spain. So yes, there is plenty of irony in this decision to play the Libertadores in Spain.
Beyond the jokes, most were at the same time relived and disappointed. Relived that the final would not be played in Qatar as was rumored to be the location the previous day but disappointed that the South American championship would not be decided on South American soil.
Which leads us to ask why CONMEBOL decided on Spain. The shortest and quickest answer is of course money. But if it was all about money and selling the match to the highest bidder, one could assume that the final would indeed be played in Qatar. If money was not the only part of the equation, what else was factored in?
CONMEBOL has not released anything stating exactly why they chose to take the final to Europe and why they ultimately selected Madrid. But we can only imagine that the following played a pivotal role in the decision that was made.
A Large Community of Argentines in Spain
According to Spain’s census that was completed in 2011, there are more than 105,000 Argentines living in Spain. With the economic problems over the past few years, many more have likely moved to Spain in search of greater stability. With the match to be played in front of fans, seeking a location with a large quantity of people who will be invested in the final must have played a vital part in the decision.
An Airport that can handle a large influx of people
Madrid is one of the most important and influential cities in Europe and the world. With that comes thousands of people moving in and out of the city each day through the airport. In 2017, the Madrid Barajas Airport was the 6th busiest airport in Europe. It also has flights to several countries in South America, most significantly, direct flights from both Buenos Aires and Córdoba.
A Five Star Stadium
The Santiago Bernabéu is one of the largest stadiums in the world with a capacity north of 80,000. The Bernabéu is also designated as a Five Star Stadium by UEFA. It knows how to host football matches of major significance. Each year multiple late stage matches in the Champions League are played at the Bernabéu and it hosted both the 2009 Champions League Final as well as the 1982 World Cup final.
Going hand-in-hand with the stadium is the ultra-significant theme of security. Fans from both River and Boca are expected to attend the match. Even though CONMEBOL has said that the Barras “shouldn’t even dream of going” we all know that is not going to be the case. The Barras will get tickets and will go to the match. Security is going to be critical, especially with two already frustrated groups of fans. As already mentioned, Madrid has hosted matches of great significance before and the hope is their security will protect both the diehard fans of each club as well as the neutral fan.
At this point, many fans have already been so turned off by the entire debacle that moving the final outside of South America was the final nail in the coffin. What’s the point of playing if it can’t even be played on the continent? No matter the results of the final in Spain, assuming another disaster doesn’t happen, this final will forever be remembered for what happened off the pitch and not on it. It is devastating that what was supposed to be one of the greatest footballing events of our lifetime is now just another reminder of the current state of football in South America.
Football being moved to the back page of the paper in order to discuss violence and other events off the pitch is a regular occurrence. While playing the match in Spain means we are much more likely to have a final and crown a champion, it’s simply a band aid that covers a much larger issue – one that has gone on far too long without any solution.
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.