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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 April 2019

All eyes on Copa Libertadores final in Madrid as Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi next stop for winner

Barring any more hiccups, Copa Libertadores should be settled between Argentine rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate at Bernabeu on Sunday night

Abu Dhabi should finally know whether it is welcoming Boca Juniors or River Plate as the eighth and final team in the Fifa Club World Cup by Monday morning.

Barring the type of hiccups that have already seen the Copa Libertadores final between the Buenos Aires rivals postponed three times, the competition should finally be settled in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday night. It will be the biggest match in the 127-year history of Argentine football.

The first leg between the pair was put back 24 hours because heavy rain flooded the pitch and the streets in the tough Boca barrio around the sheer-sided La Bonbonera. Played 24 hours later, a splendid, frenetic game finished 2-2.

The real controversy surrounded the second leg, set for November 24.

The Boca team coach was attacked on the way to the Monumental stadium by River fans who lined the route, its flimsy windows smashed. Players were affected by the smashed glass and tear gas sprayed to disperse the crowd.

After much deliberation and uncertainty – quite the norm in Argentina – the game was postponed. It was scheduled for the following day.

More deliberation and uncertainty, with Boca saying they were not ready to play. River agreed to a postponement.

“Another opportunity lost in front of the whole world that observes us. It’s shameful,” former Argentine striker Gabriel Batistuta commented.

Conmebol, football’s governing body in South America, decided that the game could not be played in Argentina on security grounds. There was also a logistical issue with the G20 summit taking place in Buenos Aires.

The match needed to be played quickly since the winner will represent South America in the Club World Cup which starts on Wednesday. The winners will fly straight to Abu Dhabi, the losers back to Argentina.

The fans? Has anyone really considered the travelling fans in this? Or are they just the group who get the blame because of all the trouble in the first place.

A 4,000-strong security team will be in operation. If River win then they will celebrate at the city’s Puerta del Sol. Boca would celebrate in the Plaza Colon.

Both teams received 25,000 tickets – with 5,000 of each allocation sold in Argentina and the rest outside the country. With a trip from Argentina costing €2,000 (Dh8,360), neither side has sold their ticket allocation. There are 90,000 Argentines living in Madrid alone and demand for tickets from Spain has been strong.

Fans began arriving in Madrid on Friday and several members of the Barras Bravas hooligans were deported upon arrival. The groups have such power that their clubs are often scared of them.

They have made deep inroads into ticketing, merchandising and car parking. The head of River’s Barra Brava had 300 tickets for the final found at his home.

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Read more on Copa Libertadores:

Amith Passela: Hernan Crespo says final must be played in Argentina

In pictures: Final postponed after 'shameful' attack on Boca Juniors bus

Slideshow: Five of the greatest Boca Juniors and River Plate players

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Barcelona's Argentine star Lionel Messi, third left, will be at Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium to watch the Copa Libertadores final. AP Photo
Barcelona's Argentine star Lionel Messi, third left, will be at Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium to watch the Copa Libertadores final. AP Photo

River president Rodolfo D’Onofrio hopes that the problems around this game are “Argentina’s 11 September” in terms of ridding the club’s of Barra Brava, but added that “The government has to be brave and so do the directors.”

He also said: “I have no doubts that the fans of River and Boca can get along together. This is a game. The troublemakers cannot be allowed to get into the stadium.”

Boca were given a huge send off, while River remain livid that the second leg has been taken away from their home stadium. Boca, in turn, have had their bid to have River thrown out of the competition rejected.

Argentina’s most famous footballer Lionel Messi is expected to be at the game in person and his former Argentina striker partner and Boca striker Carlos Tevez said that it is “embarrassing for the people, not so much for the players” that the game is in Madrid.

“They took away our dream of playing the final in our country. It is a bit weird to play here but it is important for us to focus on how the game will be in Madrid. It is important because it is still a final.”

Not just any final, but probably the biggest either club has ever played in, with the eyes of the world upon them.

Updated: December 9, 2018 11:09 AM

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