Copa Libertadores final postponed to Sunday after Boca bus attacked, players hurt
The second leg of the Copa Libertadores final was pushed back one day after River Plate fans attacked the Boca Juniors team bus on Saturday, injuring players as they travelled to the stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the scheduled start of South America's biggest match.
South American soccer's governing body, CONMEBOL, rescheduled the game between the archrivals for Sunday at 5 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) after Boca players suffered minor injuries.
River fans threw stones and wood at the Boca bus as it made its way to River's Monumental de Nunez Stadium, breaking several windows. Shattered glass and thrown objects struck players, and some also suffered the effects of tear gas and pepper spray used by police to contain the violence.
The trouble tarnished what was supposed to have been a landmark day for Argentine football. The all-Buenos Aires clash marked the first time Argentina's two biggest clubs have met in the final of the Libertadores, South America's equivalent of the Champions League, and it was widely billed as the greatest final in the competition's 58-year history.
CONMEBOL initially postponed the match until 6 p.m. local time Saturday; kickoff was pushed back again, to 7:15 p.m., before confederation president Alejandro Dominguez announced the game would take place on Sunday.
"We came to this situation because of a group of misfits that do not understand that this is a sport, that football is not this, that it should be fun and peace," Dominguez said.
"Both clubs came to an agreement, a gentlemen's agreement. Under these conditions one cannot play and the other one does not want to win like this. Common sense prevailed: The game will be played tomorrow, at 5 p.m."
Later on Saturday, the city government ordered River's Monumental stadium to be closed for exceeding capacity limits and failing to keep exits clear, casting doubt on whether the second leg will go ahead on Sunday, before it was confirmed the stadium would be re-opened.
Ricardo Pedace, head of the government's safety agency, told local television they were taking steps to determine whether the game could be played.
"I have asked the inspectors to act quickly, to make it possible for the game to be played," he said.
Fan violence inside and outside the stadium followed the announcement of the postponement until Sunday, with at least 30 people arrested, according to local media. Some of the 66,000 River fans tried to storm into the dressing rooms, interrupting a television interview of River president Rodolfo D'Onofrio.
Away-team supporters are already banned from football matches in Argentina because of recurring violence in and around the grounds.
"We want to play a match that is head to head,'' D'Onofrio said before he was forced to run in the chaotic interior of the Monumental de Nunez. "It is regrettable that a divine party like this was interrupted by 15 hooligans. We were stopped from playing a match that the entire world was watching."
D'Onofrio also said "there should have been an adequate prevention" to guide Boca's bus safely to the stadium. Buenos Aires public security secretary Marcelo Alessandro admitted there was a security failure that opened the way for the attack.
Boca captain Pablo Perez and midfielder Gonzalo Lamardo were taken to nearby hospitals, where fans gathered in support. Perez had injuries to his arms and an eye, according to images of Boca's locker room shared on social media. Lamardo had trouble breathing because of the gas. Perez left the hospital on Sunday and confirmed to ESPN he did not require surgery and would be fit enough to play on Sunday.
"They were throwing pepper gas, stones, everything," the Clarin website quoted Juan Carlos Crespi, a member of the Boca delegation, as saying.
Pictures also showed players Carlos Tevez, Nahitan Nandez, Dario Benedetto, Mauro Zarate, Ramon Abila and Agustin Almendra among the injured. Clarin reported that six players had vomited in the dressing room after gas drifted through bus windows smashed by River fans outside the stadium.
"The players are all hurt, you can't play this way," Christian Gribaudo, Boca's secretary general, said in quotes reported by Clarin, with the club asking doctors to examine the players.
CONMEBOL said in a statement that its doctors noted Boca players "suffered superficial skin injuries" and two "said they had eye injuries, which could not be confirmed."
"We believe that under the medical point of view there is no reason to suspend the match," the CONMEBOL doctors said.
Dominguez disagreed, saying: "This is football, not war. Neither team wants to play because this match would be unnatural."
Tevez, who once starred for top clubs in both England and Italy, told a local TV station before the postponement: "We are not in a position to play the game. They're forcing us to play it. We have three companions who are not physically well. No River player came in to ask how we were doing."
Boca president Daniel Angelici was escorted by bodyguards and security forces inside the stadium while River fans shouted "Coward!"
"Matches have to be won and lost on the pitch. But we were not in the same conditions to play," Angelici said. "As an Argentine and as a football executive, I am embarrassed."
Boca and River drew the first leg 2-2 on Nov. 11, a game that was delayed 24 hours itself because of a waterlogged pitch at Boca's stadium.
Three years ago, a Copa Libertadores last-16 tie between the same teams was abandoned at half-time after Boca fans attacked the River players with pepper spray in the tunnel. River was given a bye into the quarterfinals and Boca was kicked out of the competition.
Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this story.