I can’t quite work out how to start here, so let’s just dive in, as I don’t plan on this being a long post. It’s been a bad day for Argentine football; on Thursday morning, Banfield youngster Emiliano Ortega died from a head injury he’d picked up last week playing on loan for lower division side San Martín de Burzaco. This weekend’s Primera División fixtures, along with every other domestic match in Argentina, have been called off as a mark of respect.
And then the second leg of the Copa Libertadores last sixteen tie between Boca Juniors and River Plate at La Bombonera was suspended on Thursday night before kick off of the second half, after River players were attacked by pepper spray (was it just pepper spray?), seemingly sprayed on them by a ‘fan’ who’d damaged the inflatable tunnel they were coming out of onto the pitch.
That’s about all we know for certain so far. Fox Sports commentators at the match said they’d received a message from a friend who recognised the ‘fan’ apparently using a blowtorch or some kind of controlled flare – I’m assured by Twitter followers this would be possible depending on the kind of flare – cutting through the chainlink fence at the side of the pitch (who was shown on the TV cameras). It was claimed that he had received a banning order from the club 45 days before, so shouldn’t have even been at the match. If true, that doesn’t speak very highly of entrance checks, but national Security Secretary Sergio Berni said afterwards that, ‘the security operation was a success.’ The match was suspended. Boca want to arrange for the second half to be played in a few days’ time (in a neutral venue, and it should go without saying, behind closed doors), whilst River are understandably more reticent.
CONMEBOL regulations would appear to be clear – if ‘fans’ of one team cause a match to be called off, the other team are awarded the match. Without needing to worry about a scoreline, that in this case would result in River advancing to the quarter-finals, since they already won last week’s first leg 1-0 (tonight’s match was 0-0 when it was called off). But will CONMEBOL apply that regulation? There are rumours that the mixture sprayed on the players contained more than just pepper spray – acid from a phosphorescent flare was mentioned on Radio Mitre. And there was talk on ESPN’s South American broadcast (which was covering the aftermath but didn’t broadcast the game – the tournament rights are held by Fox Sports) of Boca having La Bombonera suspended for continental competitions for as much as two years. But right now, it’s all just talk. For the moment, we don’t know which of these teams will be in the quarter-finals, or what punishment will be handed down to Boca, and Leonardo Ponzio, Sebastián Driussi, Ramiro Funes Mori and Matías Kranevitter will be spending the night in a burns unit.
Racing got through their own last sixteen tie by beating Montevideo Wanderers 2-1 in El Cilindro for a 3-2 aggregate win, by the way. Well done, Racing.