Rivalries. Derbies. Whatever it is we choose to call them, we love them. We obsess over them. We rank them, quantify them, decide which ones are legitimate and which are trumped-up nonsense. They are soccer, for better or worse, and unfortunately, the latest edition of Argentina’s Superclásico between Boca Juniors and River Plate took on the worst.
Though it may not garner the international (read: Eurocentric) attention of Barcelona versus Real Madrid or the Manchester Derby, the Superclásico is unquestionably one of the most vibrant, fiercest, storied and, at times, scariest rivalries in the world. The two massive Buenos Aires clubs have been at odds and putting an entire nation on hold 90 minutes at a time since 1913.
Boca and River met again last night in the Copa Libertadores round of 16. It was the clubs’ third meeting in May, but this game would not make it to the final whistle. It was halted at halftime (0-0) after River Plate players were blasted with pepper spray by Boca fans at La Bombonera.
Before all hell broke loose, the match began with a moment of respect, as the two teams came together for a moment of silence in memory of Emmanuel Ortega, a player for San Martín de Burzaco who died yesterday from injuries after colliding head-first with a concrete wall around a field during a game two weeks ago.
By halftime, normal unpleasantries were restored. As River Plate players left the stadium tunnel to begin the second half, they were doused by pepper spray, or something similar. Four players were taken to the hospital, and after about an hour spent attempting to restore order and tend to injured players, official called the game. River players would have to be escorted back into the locker room under the cover of umbrellas and shields from riot police.
Adding insult to literal injury, as River players poured water into their eyes to clear the spray from their systems, Boca fans flew a drone over the field carrying El Fantasma de la B (The Ghost of Primera B), mocking River Plate’s relegation to the second division in 2011.
In post-match comments, Boca Juniors president Daniel Angelici claims to have issued a personal apology to his River Plate counterpart, and vowed to assist police in any investigations.
“We will accept the responsibility that we have but I don’t think the players are responsible.”
“We will do all we can to help the police and we hope to find those responsible as soon as possible.”
“An aerosol is small, I don’t know how it works, but it is very powerful, it can fit in your pocket and when there are almost 50,000 people it can get by security.”
Argentina’s secretary of national security — who made the call to send in the riot police — has criticized match, stadium and tournament officials for what he felt were indecisive and delayed responses. CONMEBOL officials will meet today to decide how the second leg of the series will be settled, either by replay (at La Bombanera, or a neutral-site) or awarding the game to River Plate, advancing the club to the quarterfinal.