Switching the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate from Buenos Aires to Madrid on December 9 will rob Argentine fans of the right to watch their two biggest club sides in action, according to River coach Marcelo Gallardo.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has also waded in on the argument to say it should be held in South America, preferably Buenos Aires. But here’s the thing, Buenos Aires was given two chances to play that second leg on November 24 and November 25 and neither attempt could be completed due to fan trouble, the first leaving several Boca players in hospital when their team bus was attacked on the way to the stadium.
The Argentine capital was able to hold the G20 summit just days later without incident, but couldn’t control a small minority of football fans who ruined it for everyone else. So, the game has to move, and Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu is the right call for several reasons.
What people aren’t considering in their criticism of the game moving to Spain is the fact that the Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi is looming just days after for the winner of this tie from December 12-22. South American sides in fact don’t enter the draw until the December 18 semi-finals.
Buenos Aires couldn’t stage the game between November 30 and December 1 because of the G20 summit.
To have held a replay before the summit would have disadvantaged Boca and their injured players. Meanwhile, even if the risk of fan trouble had somehow subsided after the summit, to have kept the game in Buenos Aires post December 1 would have left things perilously close to Fifa Club World Cup, heavily disadvantaging whoever wins the Copa Libertadores ahead of their trip onwards to Abu Dhabi.
This way, the threat of fan trouble is eliminated, and the travel time for the winning side in their journey on to Abu Dhabi is almost halved — it’s a 12-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Madrid and a further seven hours onto Abu Dhabi. Boca or River can split up their flight and stay in Madrid for a week.
Far from being disadvantaged in terms of travel and preparation, whoever wins the Copa Libertadores will now be on an almost equal footing to the other predicted finalist of the Fifa Club World Cup, Uefa Champions League winners Real Madrid, who will of course be flying into Abu Dhabi at around the same time from the same departure airport.
There will be those who say one side will still be disadvantaged, Boca were the ones who were attacked, but it was River Plate who should be playing the second leg at their stadium after drawing the first leg 2-2 away. Some even suggested Boca be awarded the win without playing as it was the fault of River’s fans. But this way, safety and neutrality is assured, the game is played and Fifa Club World Cup chances remain. A lack of fans or an atmosphere in Madrid is just unfortunate collateral.