River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo: CONMEBOL 'robbing the fans' with Copa Libertadores move
River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo has accused the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) of "robbing the fans" with its 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 return has been moved to Spain after Boca players were injured when fans attacked their team coach shortly before the match 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."
River Plate had released a statement on Saturday saying they are refusing to play the Dec. 9 return match.
Each team will get 25,000 tickets for the game at the Real Madrid's 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 barra bravas, the often violent organised fan groups, from travelling to watch the game in Spain.
The Argentine government said on Monday it was working closely with its Spanish counterparts to neuter the barra bravas and ensure that travelling fans would be kept apart in Madrid.
"We can't stop the barra bravas from leaving the country but we can stop them from getting into the Bernabeu," a security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Gallardo was indignant at the situation and said the last 10 days was one of 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 semifinal against Gremio and was given another suspension 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 themselves were kicked out the Libertadores after their fans attacked River players with pepper spray at half-time during the first leg of their last 16 showdown.
Argentina president Mauricio Macri, a former president of Boca Juniors, said he hoped the massive international focus on the scandal would force his compatriots to change.
"This should cause us all to reflect deeply on what happened," he said. "International football authorities can't tell us that we can't finish a football match in our country again."