I’ve been a big advocator of Argentine and South American football over the years. The over whelming passion in the supporters, the underrated quality in the players, the undeniable history of the clubs. For me South American football is ‘real’ and ‘pure’ is basic and humble and a long way from the glitz, glamour and money-orientated almost franchise like football business leagues we see in Europe, equally as old and distinguished clubs but designed with a corporate modern image in competitions seeded to keep the best sides apart with the view to commercialise the biggest teams on a global scale for pound notes ahead of success.
I love European football but I loathe the fact that some teams think it’s more important to finish fourth than it is to win a trophy. In South America, and in Argentina, and in Buenos Aries winning is everything. (The crumbling stadiums and lack of sponsorship interest suggests that the money doesn’t really matter that much here).
So in the run up to what could arguably be described as the continents biggest ever game of football, the showpiece for CONMEBOL and possibly the greatest two clubs in South America, the greatest of rivals from the same city taking on each other for the first time ever in the final of the Copa Libertadores… On hearing that Boca Juniors and River Plate would do battle in the Superclassico for the continents greatest prize of all….Putting the Argentinean and South American game in the global shop window for the first time in my lifetime… I couldn’t help feel as excited as I ever have been to watch a football match even if I was only going to be watching it on the box.
That excitement must have been echoed around the CONMEBOL offices in Paraguay as deals were signed up across the world to screen the big game and at a respectful time when we in Europe could watch it all unfold live too. Everything was set up for a memorable final, a fantastic sporting moment featuring two of the world’s best known rivals. But knowing football in South America… Nothing ever goes to plan.
The first leg of the original 2 leg final was scheduled for Saturday November 10th but a sudden downpour in Buenos Aries left Boca Junior’s pitch at La Bombonera unplayable with the match postponed less than an hour before kick off. A first black cross on the global TV companies check list but the game was eventually played 24 hours later and a thrilling match ended 2-2 with all to play for in the second leg scheduled for a fortnight later at El Monumental.
That game however was again cancelled…. En route to the stadium ahead of the return leg (Saturday 24th November) the Boca team bus was attacked by River Plate fans with stones and tear gas and amongst those injured Pablo Perez the Boca skipper was left unable to see.
Boca complained that there players could not participate, CONMEBOL agreed and initially postponed the game 24 hours, which has since been put back further.
Now interestingly it was the River Plate players who suffered similar injuries during a Copa Libertadores round of 16 match at La Bombonera in 2015 when the home fans sprayed tear gas through the awayy teams tunnel as River came out for the second half. That match was postponed with the victory later awarded to River Plate who went through to eventually lift the trophy… Now Boca suggest that this time the boot is on the other foot, River should be disqualified for their fans antics.. Which would on this occasion reward Boca as winners with no games left to play?
Now we are at a standstill, Boca don’t want the game as they feel if justice is to be done River will get what Boca got in 2015 (thrown out), River want to play whilst CONMEBOL have suggested that ‘IF’ the game is to be played it won’t now be in Argentina.
This game was supposed to be the greatest final of them all… The biggest and best and most successful two teams in Argentina facing off to be crowned champions of South America over two 90 minute matches home and away…
As football fans, we have been robbed by the said ‘supporters’ of these clubs and we have been robbed of what could have been the biggest stepping stone possible yet in promoting South American football at its best to Europe and the rest of the world.
What we have instead is a farce, proof that South American football has always been a farce, proof that there is no place for it on the global stage as trouble and corruption continues to mar the game of football across the continent. We might now get a game in Doha or Genoa or a one off final somewhere neutral as far away as possible from Buenos Aries but that is not what we first wanted.
We want the fans to continue to be passionate, but we don’t want their trouble ruining the game we love… We want Argentine football and Brazilian football, Colombian football and any other football to represent their countries in the best light possible, to showcase that the fans are great and that their countries stars are up there on a world stage. I wanted to talk Pavon & Palacios… Benedetto & Quintero… Perez & Perez… Instead I’m talking yet again about the tragic state of ill-discipline in a country and a continent that simply hasn’t moved with the times.
Who wins now, I don’t care? The real winners are those money men showcasing the European game and all the t-shirts and scarves that go with it as supporters to continue to trust the UEFA brand as the best in continental football, whilst the real losers here are those truly dedicated fans of the game that wanted to simply watch two of the greatest rivals that money couldn’t buy do battle in what should have been the biggest club game of football in Buenos Aries, Argentina, South America and perhaps outside Europe…. Ever.
The state of South American football now needs to take a very hard look at itself.