BUENOS AIRES, May 15 (Reuters) - Argentina’s security chief slammed Boca Juniors on Friday for failing to protect River Plate players who were attacked with what appeared to be pepper spray during their superclasico match.
Four River Plate players were taken to hospital on Thursday after they were targeted following half-time in one of Argentina’s most hotly-anticipated matches, forcing the knock out tie in the Libertadores Cup to be abandoned.
The incident marked a new low in Argentine soccer violence. Soccer in Latin America has a troubled history of fan violence and the situation in Argentina has worsened considerably in recent years with the rise of barra bravas, organised hooligan firms.
National security secretary Sergio Berni also heaped criticism on Conmebol, the South American Football Confederation, for taking over an hour to call off the game.
“Security inside clubs in the responsibility of the clubs themselves,” Berni said in an interview with local station Radio America. “Then, there was total negligence on the part of the Conmebol authorities who should have made a quick decision whether or not to abandon the match.”
Several River players emerged from an inflatable tunnel onto the pitch after the break clutching their faces and rubbing their streaming eyes, with the match deadlocked at 0-0.
The rivalry between the two Buenos Aires sides is one of the most heated in the world. It pits Boca, a traditionally working class side from the port area of the city against their more up-town rivals known as the “Millionaires.”
Boca’s Bombonera stadium was a cauldron of drums and the chants of the club’s passionate supporters, who sat just inches from the touchline separated by high wire fences. Few players relish the visit with away supporters barred from attending Argentine matches in a bid to curb violence.
Conmebol was due to meet on Friday to discuss what, if any, sanctions to impose on Boca.
Conmebol officials at the game said the organisation would decide whether to eject Boca from the tournament, or call for a replay or the match to be completed at a neutral venue.
Boca’s stadium was closed to the public on Friday.
“We will carry out investigations inside the Bombonera which has been closed to preserve any evidence,” local prosecutor Martin Ocampo told TV station C5N.
River players were escorted from the pitch under an umbrella of riot shields as missiles rained down from the stands. Boca player saluted their fans, drawing condemnation on social media.
River manager Marcelo Gallardo, whose side were 1-0 up after the first leg, called the incident “deplorable” and “shameful”.
Boca president Daniel Angelici apologised for the incident but maintained the team should not be punished for the actions of fans.
“We will accept the responsibility that we have but I don’t think the players are responsible,” he told reporters. (Additional reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi in Buenos Aires and Andrew Downie in Berlin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)