BUENOS AIRES // River Plate, one of Argentina's historic football clubs were relegated to the Argentine second division for the first time in their 110-year existence last night, sparking riots between police and fans with dozens injured inside and outside Monumental stadium.
Relegation came after a 1-1 draw with Belgrano in the second-leg of a relegation play-off. Belgrano won the first leg 2-0. Mariano Pavone scored in the sixth minute for River but Guillermo Farre equalised 0n 62 minutes.
Violence broke a minute before the match was over. Angry fans pelted players with objects from the stands, and police replied with water cannons with some fans climbing fences topped with razor wire.
As fans were pounded with jets of water, River Plate's players huddled on the pitch, many in tears, including the goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo.
The mayhem quickly spread outside River's 50,000-seat stadium. Alberto Crescenti, head of emergency medical services, said at least 55 people had been injured.
Nilda Garre, the minister for security, said 35 police officers were injured.
"Fortunately, none have their lives at risk," the Argentine news agency DyN reported her saying.
Police used water cannons outside the stadium immediately after the match, hoping to disperse fans quickly. Fans who poured out of the stadium faced police with batons and shields at every exit, while attack dogs were ready and helicopters hovered over the stadium.
The area outside the stadium, located in the leafy northern suburb of Nunez, looked like a battle zone with police and River Plate hooligans fighting on the streets.
Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas, and brought in mounted units to try to keep order.
Young, angry fans responded by throwing rocks at police, setting fire to rubbish bins and vehicles, and ripping down metal street barriers. Smoke also billowed from one end of the stadium with reports that concession areas and other parts of the stadium had been set on fire.
Fans also ripped up stadium seats and used them as weapons in fights.
Half a half dozen ambulances entered the stadium area about 45 minutes after the match ended, with live television coverage showing medics working on the injured while street fights erupted just a few feet away.
As the troublemakers were driven away from the stadium, there were reports of stores and shops being broken into on one of Buenos Aires' most famous thoroughfares — Avenida Del Libertador.
Fearing this kind of violence, Argentine authorities deployed about 2,200 police to control the crowd.
Suggestions to play the match in an empty stadium were turned down by the interior ministry officials after consulting with the Argentine Football Association and its president Julio Grondona.
The violence was predicted. On Wednesday, the first leg in Corboda was stopped for 20 minutes early in the second half after River Plate hooligans ripped through a fence and raced across the field taunting and pushing River Plate players.
The ugly scenes, seen worldwide, come just days before Argentina host the Copa America with the first match on Friday in La Plata, about 35 miles south-east of Buenos Aires.
River Plate's stadium is scheduled to host the final July 24, but that fixture is in doubt. Gustavo Galante, a Buenos Aires prosecutor, said after the match he was moving to close the stadium for 30 days to investigate how many fans were allowed to enter the ageing facility.