Soccer: River Plate reject Libertadores final in Madrid

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The troubled Copa Libertadores final between Argentina’s two biggest clubs ran into more problems on Saturday when River Plate said they rejected the decision to face Boca Juniors in Madrid in the postponed second leg.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Copa Libertadores Final – Second leg – River Plate v Boca Juniors – Antonio Vespucio Liberti Stadium, Buenos Aires, Argentina – November 24, 2018 General view of River Plate’s fans inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci/File Photo

In the latest twist to the saga, River, the home team, said it was “incomprehensible” that the fixture should be played outside Argentina, although the club stopped short of saying they would refuse to play.

The hugely-anticipated match at River Plate’s Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires was called off on Nov. 24 after the Boca team bus was attacked with stones and bottles as it approached the ground.

Several players were hit by shattered glass and some were affected by tear gas used by police to break up the attack.

The match was rescheduled for the following day but was again postponed, hours before kickoff. The first leg in Boca’s stadium had ended 2-2 one week earlier.

On Thursday, amid reports that the fixture could be played in Qatar, the South American Football Confederation CONMEBOL announced the decision to move the game to Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium on Dec. 9.

“River Plate reject the change of venue,” the club said in a statement, adding that moving the game to Madrid “adversely affects those who bought tickets and also upsets the idea of equal conditions by taking away home advantage”.

However, River did not say what action they would take if CONMEBOL stood by its decision.

River have been fined $400,000 for the incidents and ordered to play their next two home matches in South American club competition behind closed doors. However, Boca have said they will appeal against the decision which they consider too lenient.

Boca themselves were thrown out of the Libertadores in 2015 after River players were attacked with pepper spray by fans at halftime during the second leg of a knockout tie at the Bombonera stadium. Boca say they want the same standards to apply to River.

River said the attack on the bus happened outside the area which was considered the club’s responsibility.

“The responsibility for the failure of the security operation was openly accepted by the highest authorities of the state,” it said.

“It’s incomprehensible that the most important fixture in Argentine football cannot take place in the country which is hosting the G20.

“Argentine football as a whole… cannot allow a handful of thugs to stop the Superclasico from taking place in our country.”

It is the first time that the two clubs have met in the final of the competition, which is the South American equivalent of the Champions League.

From next season onwards, the final will be played in a single match at a neutral venue — a decision which CONMEBOL had already taken before last month’s trouble.

Reporting by Andrew Downie; Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon

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