Opinion

Boca and River out to make South American history in Spain

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“I always thought of myself as an idiot at history,” said Boca Juniors striker Carlos Tevez this week, “But I think they’ve outdone me with this one.”

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He was referring, of course, to Conmebol’s decision to transfer the delayed second leg of the Copa Libertadores final to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. 

This biggest match in the history of South American club football will now take place in Madrid.

This is deeply ironic. The Libertadores is named as a tribute to those who fought a valiant battle in the early nineteenth century to win South America’s independence – from Spain.

The main duo of liberators were Simon Bolivar, who fought his way down from Venezuela, and General Jose de San Martin, who fought his way up from Argentina. 

Some have suggested that San Martin would be spinning in his grave at the idea of the Libertadores final taking place in the Spanish capital. 

It is, though, worth remembering that the general, disillusioned by all the political in-fighting, took himself off to self-imposed exile in Europe. 

And towards the end of his life an exasperated Bolivar was heard to declare that the newly independent lands were “ungovernable. Those who served the revolution have ploughed the sea.”

Perhaps, then, neither San Martin nor Bolivar would have been too surprised by the scenes in Buenos Aires two weeks ago, when the Boca Juniors team bus was hit by bottles and stones thrown by River Plate fans.

Carlos Tevez also complained about “three madmen behind a desk who understand nothing,” a reference to the Conmebol authorities who switched the venue across the Atlantic. 

“They have taken from us the dream of doing the lap of honour in River Plate’s stadium.”

This, though, looks like breathtaking hypocrisy. Because had Conmebol maintained the match in River’s ground, Boca would almost certainly not have turned up.

Boca’s position is clear. They think that there is no need for a second match, and they should be awarded the trophy because River should be disqualified.

This is payback for 2015, when Boca were kicked out of the Libertadores after a second round meeting with River. 

The River players were attacked with pepper spray as they made their way back on to the pitch for the second half.

The key difference between 2015 and 2018 is location. The first incident took place in Boca’s stadium, the second outside River’s. 

This means that River Plate are still responsible, but that the blame is shared with the police, whose security operation was clearly deficient. 

Boca’s stance – and they say that they will take it all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport – is exaggerated. 

But it is far more realistic than that of River, who believe that they should face no punishment at all.

The lack of a conception of common good, the two clubs bickering like a sub-tropical version of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, is part of the explanation for Conmebol’s option to take the game outside Argentina. 

River clearly had to face some sort of punishment, but a game played behind closed doors would have been very hard to police, with hundreds of thousands trying to gain access. 

There are obvious security advantages in taking the game abroad – especially as the Spanish authorities are taking full responsibility.

So why the stunningly insensitive decision to choose Madrid?

Conmebol get a game – and therefore don’t have to give back all the much needed money they have made from the sale of TV rights. 

And unlike the Middle East, another touted option, it will take place in a historic venue with atmosphere guaranteed.

Spain can now use this as a precedent, strengthening their case for staging La Liga matches in the USA. 

And they have also won an important round in the race to stage the 2030 World Cup. 

The front runner has been the sentimental, centenary bid of Uruguay, joined by Paraguay and Argentina. 

By far the largest of the three countries, Argentina would stage the bulk of the games – but has proved unable to stage this one. 

If Monday morning’s bizarre occasion goes ahead without any hitches, then Spain’s 2030 campaign will have received a significant boost.