Billed as the “final to end all finals,” the second leg of the Copa Libertadores’ showpiece tie between hated rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate descended into a farce this past weekend. Below, we review the surreal timeline of events that eventually led to the match being suspended until further notice.
Note: All events listed in Eastern time.
Saturday, Nov. 24
10:45 AM – The atmosphere and anticipation builds
It all started so well. Boca Juniors fans gathered outside the team’s hotel over four hours before the originally scheduled kick-off on Saturday, in a scene that highlighted everything onlookers admire about South American football: the vibrant atmosphere, the vivid colors, and the (arguably unrivaled) passion.
12:30 PM – River Plate en route to El Monumental
As their blue-and-yellow peers prepared to make their ill-fated commute to El Monumental, River Plate began their own journey to the stadium, with a horde of fans showing their support along the way.
1:24 PM – Boca’s bus attacked by River fans
The sensational visuals of the preceding hours made way for ugly scenes later in the day, as the Boca Juniors team bus was pelted with debris while making its way toward the stadium. Several windows were smashed by rocks and bottles, and tear gas that was meant to disperse the crowd seeped into the bus through the broken windows.
The driver, quoted by various outlets, said: “At the moment of the attacks I fainted and the vice-president of Boca (Horacio Paolini) took the wheel.”
Videos circulating online showed that the bus, shadowed by a police escort – which ultimately proved of little value – traveled down Avenida Monroe, a street known to be packed to the brim with River Plate fans on matchday.
Further video eventually emerged, showing the level of destruction from inside the Boca bus:
In the immediate aftermath of the heinous attack, confusion reigned over both the state of the players and the match itself. Reports suggested multiple members of the Boca squad had suffered various injuries from the broken glass, while others were said to be ill from the tear gas.
2:09 PM – Boca players visibly ill upon arriving at the stadium
As they filtered into El Monumental, the extent of the physical damage on the Boca players started to become clear. Many, including Carlos Tevez, could be seen coughing. Others were heaving, with some covering their mouths or rubbing their eyes as they made their way toward the dressing room.
Meanwhile, Argentine newspaper Clarin reported, via Reuters, that six players vomited once they got there as a result of their exposure to the tear gas.
2:42 PM – The first postponement
CONMEBOL, seemingly trying to buy itself time to make a final decision, confirmed that the match was to be postponed by one hour, to 6 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET).
Shortly after that announcement, FIFA boss Gianni Infantino and CONMEBOL chief Alejandro Dominguez held a meeting with the presidents of the respective clubs. Rumblings began to emerge that the former duo, beholden to the television contracts of the rights holders, wanted the match to be played.
3:21 PM – Reaction pours in from an Argentine legend
With the status of the match still in question, Argentine icon Gabriel Batistuta took to Twitter, echoing the growing sentiment that the country has wasted a glorious opportunity to showcase itself on the world stage.
“Another opportunity lost in front of the whole world that observes us,” the retired striker tweeted, with translation from the Guardian’s John Brewin. “Shameful, regrettable.”
3:30 PM – Did FIFA threaten Boca with disqualification? (Probably not)
As with any developing story, misinformation can spread quickly.
A report gained traction online, claiming FIFA’s Infantino told Boca president Daniel Angelici that his club would be “disqualified” from the competition if the players didn’t take the field on Saturday.
This was ultimately denied by FIFA, according to the Associated Press’ Rob Harris. Infantino himself was later quoted as saying he made no such threat.
3:46 PM – Kick-off pushed back once again
As the rescheduled kick-off time of 4 p.m. ET approached, it became increasingly obvious that another postponement would be necessary; the players hadn’t taken the pitch for warmups, and starting lineups hadn’t yet been submitted by either side. As a result, CONMEBOL made a second announcement, pushing the contest back to 5:15 p.m. ET.
Simultaneously, photos started to emerge of Boca midfielders Pablo Perez and Gonzalo Lamardo with heavy bandages over their eyes. The pair were taken to hospital with shards of glass in their eyes from the bus attack.
3:54 PM – CONMEBOL doctors say match should be played
Incredibly, CONMEBOL doctors proceeded to release a statement claiming the Boca players’ injuries were “superficial,” adding that the match should go ahead because they couldn’t confirm the nature of the eye problems suffered by either Perez or Lamardo.
“Players from the club Boca Juniors suffered superficial skin injuries on their arms and legs, face and body; equally two players said they had suffered eye injuries, which our medical team was not able to confirm,” the statement read, as translated by AS. “Given this situation, we consider that from a medical point of view there is no reason to suspend the match.”
4:26 PM – Tevez, Fernando Gago speak out
With confusion intensifying and no update on the state of the Boca Juniors players, veterans Carlos Tevez and Fernando Gago were interviewed inside the stadium, and provided their account of the events.
“We’re in no state (to play),” Tevez said, according to Reuters correspondent Andrew Downie. “They are forcing us to play the game.”
“The presidents of CONMEBOL and FIFA are who want us to play,” added Gago, as translated by The Independent’s Miguel Delaney.
Reports began to emerge suggesting that Boca would take the pitch and play the match under protest.
4:43 PM – Coaches set up pitch for warmups, police clash with fans
Nearly two hours after the originally scheduled kick-off, movement was seen on the pitch for the first time, with coaches beginning to set up training cones in preparation for pre-match warmups. It was a strong indication that the game might actually go ahead, despite everything that happened beforehand.
Meanwhile, the situation began to deteriorate outside the stadium as police clashed with restless River Plate fans. There are members of the latter group, in fairness, who tried to defuse the situation, but the tension around El Monumental is clearly growing.
There were reports that police used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, while additional videos emerged showing fans knocking over police barriers and storming the entrance gates in an effort to get into the stadium.
5:15 PM – Team sheets reportedly submitted
With no word from CONMEBOL in over an hour – and the rescheduled kick-off time of 5:15 p.m. ET now having come and gone, reports began to mount that both clubs had named their respective starting XIs for the match. Boca captain Pablo Perez, who was photographed earlier with heavy bandaging on his left eye, is, somehow, said to be included in the lineup.
5:20 PM – Match officially called off
Finally, common sense prevails, and the Superclasico is called off.
It took hours longer than it should have, but the game was pushed back to Sunday at 5 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET).
The (long overdue) decision sparked chaos both inside and outside the jam-packed stadium. While River’s president, Rodolfo D’Onofrio, was being interviewed, fans could be seen running for safety nearby. Multiple fights broke out, according to Argentine media, with Todo Noticias reporting that 29 people were arrested around the stadium.
River Plate issued a statement on Twitter, telling fans that their tickets would be valid for the match on Sunday. Further reports suggested many of the aforementioned fights were the result of fans without tickets trying to steal them from supporters once they left the stadium.
6:34 PM – Boca players on the pitch
Roughly three-and-a-half hours after they were initially expected to kick-off, Boca’s players did eventually make it onto the pitch. While waiting for a new bus to arrive and transport them back to their hotel, they were met by River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo.
6:44 PM – El Monumental closed
River’s stadium was closed by city authorities in response to the day’s chaos, which cast doubt on whether the match could actually go ahead on Sunday. It was eventually made clear, however, that the club would simply need to pay a fine in order to have the ground reopened.
8:38 PM – Boca asking for a walkover?
In one final twist, reports began to gain steam that Boca Juniors would ask for the match to be declared a walkover in the morning.
“I’m feeling hurt,” Perez said while leaving the stadium, “because this was supposed to be a party and it looked more like a war zone.”
Sunday, Nov. 25
7:00 AM – Closure of El Monumental lifted
As expected, the closure of the stadium was lifted, eliminating what looked the night before like a logistical nightmare.
10:44 AM – Boca ask for match to be suspended
Boca Juniors issued a statement, formally requesting to CONMEBOL that the match be suspended because “equal terms” did not exist for it to be played.
10:53 AM – All systems go for River Plate
Just minutes after Boca’s request, River Plate announced that doors at El Monumental will be open at 11 a.m. ET. Photos outside the stadium, meanwhile, show an increased police presence:
11:26 AM – CONMEBOL ‘confirms’ the match will be played
Miguel Delaney of The Independent reported that CONMEBOL “ratified” the contest, adding that everything around the stadium was “much more under control” in comparison to the scenes on Saturday.
11:30 AM – Fans enter the stadium
River Plate supporters were allowed back into El Monumental.
11:59 PM – Match finally called off
Mercifully, CONMEBOL president Dominguez announced that the match was officially suspended, noting the lack of “equal terms” that Boca had outlined earlier in the day. What should have been a spectacle for both Argentina and South American football had descended into a farce.
All the parties involved – CONMEBOL, along with the presidents of the respective clubs – are now scheduled to meet on Tuesday in order to determine a date and venue for the match.
And now we wait to see if the “final to end all finals” will ever be played.