Copa Libertadores final – how, why and what now?

South America must learn from the mistakes made around the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate.

Scenes before Boca Juniors met River Plate.   -  Getty Images

Argentinian football was left with more questions than answers after a weekend of farce that leaves the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final still unplayed.

The presidents of River Plate and Boca Juniors will meet CONMEBOL chief Alejandro Dominguez in Asuncion on Tuesday to try to find a solution but the game itself has become secondary.

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The wider picture is how South American football must learn from an awful few days in which its reputation has plumbed new depths.

Here, German Esmerado, chief editor of Omnisport's LatAm editorial team, gives his thoughts on why it went so wrong and what happens now.

What has been the reaction in Argentina to what happened?

The initial reaction was almost unanimously one of sadness – sadness for not being able to provide a unique show, with a spectacular setting, with the eyes of the world placed on us. Argentines boast that their football is unique, the most passionate, with unrivalled levels of colour and energy in the stands. The feeling is that they [the hooligans] took something away from us, that something has been broken.

What was left was an uneasiness that we could not give the world a show but, more importantly, the realisation that we are not prepared to stage an event of this magnitude in peace and without incidents.

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The nerves and anxiety in the build-up to the match were transformed into disappointment and anger. Many people are no longer interested in the outcome of the game. Whatever happens, whoever wins, whether they play or not, the perception of football by many fans will change after what happened. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Why do these things happen in Argentina?

The question requires an extensive sociological analysis to give a definitive answer. Yes, in Argentina these things usually happen. Yes, we are used, unfortunately, to seeing situations like this. Yes, we know that things like this will continue to happen.

Many people, including the president of CONMEBOL, want to attribute the problems to "a group of misfits". "The misfits of always" is a phrase that is repeated every time there is violence in a football match here. But the reality is much more complex than that. It is not merely some radicalised hooligans and nothing else. I wish it were just that, but the problem goes much further.

In Argentina, structural corruption is enormous. Institutional fragility, which allows things to work more or less in a normal way, succumbs to the slightest tremor. The mistakes are repeated, the problems are repeated, the suspension of football games is repeated, but the show must continue.

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As we say here: "Lo atamos con alambre", literally "we tie it with wire" but perhaps best understood in English as "we paper over the cracks". When it breaks, we patch it up with minimum thought and effort as long as it works again. We sweep things under the carpet and carry on. But there is only so much dirt the carpet can cover and it's at that point when changes have to take place. The hope is that this is one of those occasions, although we have few expectations.

What is going to happen with the second leg?

It's difficult to know what will be decided on Tuesday, as both presidents will want to get the best outcome for their clubs. Boca will focus on the precedent set when they themselves were thrown out of the Copa in 2015 when their fans attacked River players with pepper spray. River will argue the game should still go ahead and claim the issues outside Estadio Monumental were due to a lack of police organisation.

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If the game is to be rescheduled, as is likely, there are several possible scenarios: at El Monumental with a crowd; at El Monumental without a crowd; in another ground in Argentina, or even in another country. Another complication is the G20 summit, due to be held in Buenos Aires next weekend. Saturday, December 8, 10 days before the Club World Cup semifinals is one possibility; another is Wednesday, December 5.

What can CONMEBOL and the clubs learn from this?

This situation is unlikely to yield major repercussions or fundamental change. On the side of the clubs, nothing is going to change, especially if there are no strong sanctions.

CONMEBOL needs to abandon its  current disciplinary regulations and put together a new, more concise set of rules with more severe punishments. If nothing else, the 2018 Copa Libertadores has proved CONMEBOL has very little power, particularly in relation to the clubs. This is a shambles partly of its own making and needs to be rectified, and quickly.

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