River Plate, Boca Juniors gear up for ‘weird’ Copa Libertadores final
Pitting Argentina’s two greatest rivals against each other – competing for South America’s most prestigious club prize – in Spain has proven controversial, with both clubs expressing their disapproval. But the game is going ahead.
Boca Juniors striker Carlos Tevez concedes that playing a Copa Libertadores final in Madrid this Sunday will be “weird,” but he rejects any suggestion River Plate have been put at a disadvantage.
As all of Argentina knows, the second leg was moved to Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu after the original fixture at River’s Monumental stadium was postponed last month, following an attack by their fans on the Xeneize’s team bus.
South America’s football federation, CONMEBOL, ruled River should lose the chance to play at home, with the game moved abroad amid fears of further fan violence.
“It is a weird final,” Tevez said Thursday after Boca had trained at Las Rozas, the base of the Spanish national team. “To play a match between Boca and River in Madrid, it’s weird. But as a player, it is important to stay focused on the match.”
The country’s two greatest rivals will be competing for South America’s most prestigious club prize. But moving the game to Spain has proven controversial, with both clubs expressing their disapproval. This week CONMEBOL ruled against Boca’s appeal for River to be banned and the title handed to them, leaving the La Boca-based club with only one more route of appeal: the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The Xeneize believe the chaos caused by River’s fans means they should be awarded the trophy, while the Millonarios have protested against the loss of home advantage enjoyed by their opponents in the first leg, which finished 2-2.
Former Boca idol Juan Román Riquelme voiced his disapproval of the relocated fixture earlier this week, saying it would make it “the most expensive friendly in history.”
“It won’t be the same. No matter how much I want Boca to win it, I think the final has to be played in our country,” Riquelme said. “The way it is, makes it the most expensive friendly in history.”
Several cities wanted to host the game but CONMEBOL picked the Spanish capital partly because it has a large Argentine diaspora. Tens of thousands of fans are expected to travel from Buenos Aires to watch the match.
“We know things are not easy in Argentina,” Tevez said. “I’m sorry for the fans, but this is not the players’ fault. It’s CONMEBOL that decided to play a Copa Libertadores match here without thinking about the fans or about the players.”
“We would have liked to have played the game at home,” said River goalkeeper Franco Armani on Thursday. “On our pitch, in front of our fans, who deserve it, but the decision is already made. We have to make the best of it.”
“That’s all in the past now,” Boca midfielder Wilmar Barrios said. “We will be playing an important match, at a great stadium, and hopefully it will be a nice spectacle.”
Both sets of supporters have been allowed an equal allocation of 25,000 tickets for the match in Madrid, despite away fans being banned at La Bombonera, as they would have been at El Monumental.
Asked if River’s chances had been damaged, Tevez said: “I don’t think so. River have a lot more pressure playing at home and now it is 50-50. To play at home, sometimes it goes against you in a Libertadores final.”
Security remains high on the agenda after River’s fans smashed the windows of Boca’s bus and left some of their players injured. There were already reports in the Spanish media this week of isolated altercations among supporters of both teams.
“After Sunday there will be a champion and no more talk,” Armani said. “The only thing I can say is that what happened in Argentina cannot ever happen again.”
Spanish private news agency Europa Press reported Mazi Mazzaro was turned away at Madrid’s Barajas airport late Wednesday. The agency cited on Thursday unidentified police sources who described Mazzaro as dangerous, without elaborating.
“He is one of the most important and dangerous Boca ultras,” a spokesman for the Spanish police told AFP.
Both teams appeared in good spirits as they trained in Madrid for the first time on Thursday.
Boca’s players were put through a light session at Las Rozas in the morning before River trained in the evening at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas. River had landed at Madrid’s Barajas Airport early on Thursday morning.
Attending both sessions were more than 150 journalists while a small number of fans were also seen waiting outside.
Boca is seeking its seventh Libertadores title, which would bring the club level with Independiente as the competition’s most successful club. Boca’s last crown was won in 2007. River has claimed the title three times, with its latest victory coming in 2015.
Defender Javier Pinola said Thursday it was time to concentrate on the game.
“We can’t think about what happened,” Pinola said. “We have a match to play and we hope it goes off peacefully.”
KICK OFF: THIS SUNDAY, 4.30PM
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