December 3, 2018 / 1:07 PM / 15 days ago

Soccer-Indignant River coach Gallardo says fans "robbed" by Spain switch

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 3 (Reuters) - River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo has accused the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) of “robbing the fans” with their decision to move the Copa Libertadores final to Madrid.

River drew 2-2 with arch-rivals Boca Juniors in the first leg on Nov. 11.

But the second leg has been moved to Spain after Boca players were injured when fans attacked their team coach just moments before the match was due to kickoff at River’s Monumental stadium on Nov. 24.

“We have lost home advantage,” Gallardo told reporters on Sunday after his team beat Gimnasia La Plata 3-1 in the Argentine league.

“As absurd as it may be, they made a decision. Some day we are going to rethink what happened and we will remember it as a total disgrace.

“Our preparations have changed. We are going to play 10,000 kilometres away. The Copa Libertadores of America. They’ve robbed the fans.”

Each team will get 25,000 tickets for the game at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Sunday but only 5,000 of them can be sold to fans inside Argentina, CONMEBOL said.

The decision is designed to prevent the infamous barras bravas, the often violent organised fan groups, from travelling to watch the game in Spain.

Gallardo declared himself “indignant” at the situation and said the last 10 days were among the most difficult periods of his long career.

“After all that’s happened, what we’ve gone through and had to chew over, it’s not easy,” he said. “They have damaged our spirit but that makes us stronger. This may be one of the hardest moments.”

Gallardo, who ignored a dressing room ban in the semi-final against Gremio and was given another ban for doing so, accused Boca of “taking advantage” of the situation to try and secure their seventh Libertadores title.

Boca have appealed against the decision to move the game and believe they should be awarded the match.

Their argument is based on a similar situation three years ago when Boca were kicked out the Libertadores after their fans attacked River players with pepper spray at halftime during the first leg of their last 16 showdown.

River have also objected to the switch but they stopped short of refusing to play and the game now seems set to take place in front of an expectant worldwide audience next weekend. (Reporting by Andrew Downie Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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