The game billed as the biggest match in South American soccer history — the delayed second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between the Argentine archrivals Boca Juniors and River Plate — will be held in Europe.
Alejandro Domínguez, the president of Conmebol, South American soccer’s governing body, said Thursday that Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium would host the match on Dec. 9.
Fans of both clubs will be permitted to attend, despite the fact that the game, originally scheduled to be played in Buenos Aires on Nov. 25, was postponed twice last weekend after an attack by River fans on the bus carrying the Boca Juniors team resulted in injuries to several players.
Boca Juniors had requested that the game be canceled and that River Plate, its bitter crosstown rival, be forced to forfeit the trophy as punishment for the attack outside River’s Monumental stadium. Though River Plate was fined $400,000 by Conmebol on Thursday and was ordered to play its next two home fixtures in continental competition behind closed doors, the organization rejected Boca’s appeal and announced that the match would go ahead.
Rejecting the prospect that the game be rescheduled in Argentina, Domínguez said Conmebol decided that it would go ahead only on “neutral” territory. A number of cities volunteered, including Doha, Qatar; Medellín, Colombia; Genoa, Italy; and Miami.
Domínguez was ultimately convinced that the game could be best staged in safety and security — without losing its “essence” — in the Spanish capital after a telephone conversation with Florentino Pérez, the president of Real Madrid.
“He told me within two minutes that the Bernabéu was available,” Domínguez said.
“Spain has the highest population of Argentines outside Argentina,” Domínguez added. “It is the 10th safest city in the world. Its airport has the most connections with Latin America in the world. And it has a great tradition of football.”
He confirmed that all proceeds from the game would be donated to a fund to “eradicate violence from Argentine soccer,” and he said Conmebol would seek to reimburse fans who had paid for tickets to the original game at the Monumental. (Boca Juniors hosted the final’s first leg on Nov. 11, a 2-2 tie.)
The decision to hold the game in Spain has consequences far beyond Argentina, however. The R.F.E.F., Spanish soccer’s governing body, has agreed to the game’s being held on its territory at the same time it is objecting to La Liga’s plans to host a regular-season Spanish league game in the United States in January. FIFA, too, granted its approval for the Copa Libertadores move, despite the objections of its president, Gianni Infantino, to the same Liga proposal on the grounds that competitions should not be held outside their home country.
A FIFA-sanctioned Copa Libertadores outside South America could also come to be seen by UEFA as a precedent should it choose to try to host a Champions League final away from Europe. Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA’s president, has raised the possibility of moving that final, the richest and most glamorous game in club soccer, to North America or the Middle East, and UEFA is examining the possibility.
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