Copa Libertadores: The final to end all finals went to extremes it just couldn't sustain

Conmebol will now meet with the chairmen of both River and Boca on Tuesday in Asuncion to decide the ‘date and time’ of the rearranged fixture

Miguel Delaney
Buenos Aires
Sunday 25 November 2018 20:28
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Boca vs River Plate bus attack

Eventually, Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez came on air to definitively postpone the Copa Libertadores final second leg and describe the situation as “a disgrace” and “embarrassment”. But that doesn’t just apply to these two lamentable days for South American football. It also applies to the federation’s running of this fixture, and so much else.

Dominguez’s admittedly admirable media appearance at 2pm, and calls for “self-criticism” – from “everyone” – were the first moments of clarity in this entire affair. A SuperClasico built up as the “final to end all finals” did have ends of its own, limits it could not go past as the passion and raw emotion of it all became too much.

Everything was pushed too far – right down to the very staging of the game itself.

It’s hard not to think that the glamour of a fixture like this, on such a stage, became impossibly seductive for everyone, and thus clouded all logic. That applies to the very results that produced it.

There remains the argument that River Plate should never have been in the final in the first place, due to three transgressions in the semi-final against Gremio that would have seen them thrown out had Conmebol followed their own precedents. The federation instead put that to vote.

Such developments contributed to the crushing weight of tension that has arisen within Buenos Aires over the past week, culminating in the events of the past two days.

But that decision to vote on River Plate’s involvement in the competition was the first of many mis-steps in this affair.

The delaying of the first leg due to a deluge of rain now seems so quaint.

The sun was beaming down for the build up to the second leg, but only adding to the heat that saw River fans pelt the Boca bus with projectiles and create this mess, as well as inflict actual injuries – none more so on the reputation of South American football itself.

Supporters of River Plate leave the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires after authorities first postponed the match

The organisation of it all, in short, looks a shambles. It has been a mess.

The question remains as to why the authorities took the Boca bus down Monroe Street, an area well known to be full of River fans on match-days.

Even then, once the attack happened, there was an argument that it was just another transgression River should have been thrown out of the competition for. There is of course a wider debate over whether clubs should be punished for the behaviour of fans outside their own stadium but – again – this is the general precedent in football.

The sight of a Boca player receiving the trophy on the River pitch without a match having been played might have been inadvisable, but was imaginable and perhaps deserved.

Instead – and according to both Carlos Tevez and Fernando Gago – the authorities pushed to get this glamorous match going ahead. Both specifically name-checked the “presidents of Conmebol and Fifa”.

Pablo Perez, the Boca captain, wearing an eye patch following the attack on Saturday (Getty)

There will be questions about the pressure applied in those four hours, especially when it seemed that the most natural response should be to postpone the game – and for much more than a day. Instead, after four different announcements of four different kick-off times on Saturday alone, Conmebol tried to get the match going a mere 24 hours after it was supposed to start.

This was despite the image of Boca captain Pablo Perez with a bandage over his eye, despite the footage of their players retching, and despite the highly understandable proposal from the club on Sunday morning that they were not in a position where any match could be played on a level playing field.

Conmebol still pressed ahead, still opened the doors of the Monumental at 1.25pm on Sunday to let fans in – only to very quickly let them down.

Dominguez had belatedly come to see clarity. He then spoke clearly, and strikingly, talking of how this occasion was ruined by “misfits”.

That is not really the case if you take into account the entire context of Argentine and South American football. Violence like this was entirely fitting with what has happened over the last few years, and should have been legislated for.

It instead displayed the lack of sufficient organisation, lack of sufficient planning.

So much for matching the Champions League, as Dominguez so wants to do. He has described Europe’s showpiece competition as “playstation football” but that at least means it runs according to programme. That we don’t see this. It’s impossible not to think Uefa would have stepped in much earlier, even allowing for the distinctiveness of this derby, and not allowed such a mess.

Conmebol will now meet with the chairmen of both River and Boca on Tuesday in Asuncion to decide the “date and time” of the rearranged fixture. There was no mention of a change of a venue, although this entire episode has been a vindication of Dominguez’s fair decision to make the finals one-off games in neutral venues.

It’s just that so much more needs to be done than that.

The final to end all finals went to extremes it just couldn’t sustain.

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