Herman Crespo
Nicolas Burdisso (left) and Herman Crespo at the press conferece held in Al Ain on Wednesday. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: At a time when emotions are running high and there is uncertainty over where the rescheduled Copa Libertadores final second leg between River Plate and Boca Juniors will be hosted, two of the legends of the teams — Hernan Crespo and Nicolas Burdisso — sat side by side and urged fans to maintain calm respecting Pele’s “Beautiful Game”.

The Boca Juniors team bus was attacked by River Plate fans on its way to the game at River’s Estadio Monumental on Saturday, leading to the cancellation of the match that would decide the final team contending for the Club World Cup next month in the UAE.

Crespo wasted no time in addressing the hot topic that has caught the attention of football enthusiasts from across the globe. “I want to talk about what happened ahead of the final between River Plate and Boca Juniors,” he said. “I would like to say as players we are very disappointed with what happened. I would say we in Argentina have missed out on a huge opportunity to host a good final. We know there is a history of rivalry between the two sides. but the fans have to refrain from such practices.”

It is still not clear where the second leg of the final will be held and one of the names doing the rounds is Miami.

“The Concacaf committee has to decide what they plan to do, but whatever they would, will be in the interest of the game,” said Crespo, who made 62 appearances for River Plate and scored 24 goals for them. “For me, it is sad to see such a thing has happened. As players, what we look at is to go out there and express ourselves.”

Burdisso, the former Argentine centre-back who began his career with Boca Juniors and won the Argentine Championships, three Copa Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cups, echoed the sentiments of Crespo saying, “It is upsetting and there is a lesson to learn. As football players, we have to be committed and fans should also show resolve to ensure such things are not repeated. We will have to work together to make sure such incidents don’t happen again.”

With the Club World Cup scheduled for December 12-22 and the Copa Libertadores finals delayed, the last team for the Club World Cup from South America will be only known just days before the actual event kicks off in Abu Dhabi. However, Crespo was of the view that it won’t hamper preparations and these 20 days would be all about focusing on two big events.

“As professionals, I don’t think it will be a problem. Both Boca and River Plate know what they need to do to be here. These 20 days are going to be key. Win and be here and then focus completely on this tournament,” said Crespo, who has scored 35 goals for Argentina and is the fourth highest goalscorer behind Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Batistuta and Lionel Messi.

Both Crespo and Burdisso backed their teams to do well in the showpiece event if they make it to the Club World Cup here, irrespective of whom they will be facing. including Spanish giants Real Madrid.

“The players know it is a huge opportunity for them to make history. Either side will be trying their best. Everything is happening in the span of 20 days and I think they will be ready,” said Crespo adding, “Anything is possible when you are playing a tournament like the Club World Cup. It is just about one match and so even the best team can be beaten, including Real.”

Crespo also had plenty of words of advice for Al Ain players who will be representing the host nation UAE.

“It is a huge opportunity for the Al Ain boys to show the world how the football here is played in this part of the world,” he said. “They will be meeting some of the big teams like Real and that would be a great learning experience. They all need to give their best and try to make the maximum out of the games. They will be playing and not get overhauled by the situation.”