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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Copa Libertadores: River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo blasts 'absurd' decision to move final to Madrid

Second leg of South America's Champions League final has twice been postponed after fans attacked the Boca Juniors bus

River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo has slammed Conmebol - South American football's governing body - for "robbing the fans" after moving the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final to Real Madrid's Santaigo Bernabeu stadium.

River drew 2-2 with arch-rivals Boca Juniors in the first leg on November 11 but the return fixture has been moved to Spain after Boca players were injured when fans attacked their bus before the match at River's Monumental stadium on November 24.

"We have lost home advantage," Gallardo told reporters on Sunday after his team beat Gimnasia La Plata 3-1 in the Argentine league.

"As absurd as it may be, they made a decision. Some day we are going to rethink what happened and we will remember it as a total disgrace.

"Our preparations have changed. We are going to play 10,000 kilometres away. The Copa Libertadores of America. They've robbed the fans."

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Read more:

Copa Libertadores: River Plate reject proposal to play Boca Juniors in Madrid

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Each team will get 25,000 tickets for the game at the Bernabeu on Sunday but only 5,000 of them can be sold to fans inside Argentina, Conmebol said.

The decision is designed to prevent the infamous barra bravas, the often violent organised fan groups, from travelling to watch the game in Spain.

Gallardo was indignant at the situation and said the last 10 days was one of the most difficult periods of his career.

"After all that’s happened, what we’ve gone through and had to chew over, it's not easy," he said. "They have damaged our spirit but that makes us stronger. This may be one of the hardest moments."

Gallardo, who ignored a dressing room ban in the semi-final against Gremio and was given another suspension for doing so, accused Boca of "taking advantage" of the situation to try and secure their seventh Libertadores title.

Boca have appealed against the decision to move the game and believe they should be awarded the match. Their argument is based on a similar situation three years ago when Boca were kicked out the Libertadores after their fans attacked River players with pepper spray at halftime during the first leg of their last 16 showdown.

Argentina president Mauricio Macri, a former president of Boca Juniors, said he hoped the massive international focus on the scandal would force his compatriots to change.

"This should cause us all to reflect deeply on what happened," he said. "International football authorities can't tell us that we can't finish a football match in our country again."

The winner of the Copa Libertadores will fill the last remaining place at the Fifa Club World Cup in the UAE, taking place later this month.

Updated: December 4, 2018 09:47 AM

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