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Football

Boca glory ignites Argentine pride

By Charles Froggatt for CNN

Boca fans take to the streets of Buenos Aires.
Boca fans take to the streets of Buenos Aires.

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- Argentine giants Boca Juniors' victory over AC Milan in Sunday's Intercontinental Cup final in Japan has triggered wild celebrations in Buenos Aires, the team's home city.

Tens of thousands of fans poured onto the streets of the Argentine capital to celebrate following Boca's penalty shootout success.

The annual showdown between the club champions of Europe and South America had finished 1-1 after extra time.

Boca player Raul Cascini hammered in the game-clinching penalty to the delight of the two thousand travelling Boca fans and to the "gooooool" roar of the Argentine commentator.

The Obelisk in the center of the economically-hit city, home to almost half of Argentina's population, was surrounded by a sea of blue and gold after the nail-biting finish to a game that officially makes Boca the world club champions, or "campeones del mundo" as Argentines put it.

In a soccer-addicted country still finding its feet after the financial collapse of 2001, and still hurting from the national team's first round elimination from the 2002 World Cup, Boca's success has reignited the Argentine flame.

Sweet shop

On Tuesday, Buenos Aires once again ground to a halt to greet the team as they returned to their beloved Bombonera stadium, nicknamed the "sweet shop."

Even the motorways outside the city were blocked by the Boca mayhem. After touching down in their own chartered airplane, the squad still faced a 45 minute drive north to the capital.

Delirious soccer fans lined the route, and travelled on motorbikes, bicycles and even on foot to catch a glimpse the blue and gold Boca bus. Amid the scenes of celebration, two people were killed when a car ploughed into supporters standing at the roadside.

Boca are Argentina's most popular club and have won nine titles under veteran coach Carlos Bianchi, including the last two in a hat-trick of world club titles. The side previously won the Intercontinental Cup in 1977 and 2000.

Bianchi, who also became the first coach to win the title three times having also guided Velez Sarsfield to victory in 1994, has vowed to continue at the club

"My contract expires in 2005, so there is nothing to say. I have said nothing because I mean to respect that contract," he told La Nacion newspaper

The Spanish press has also said that Bianchi has plans to coach the national side, still re-building after last year's World Cup failure. The Celeste had previously won the tournament twice, on home soil in 1978 and in Mexico in 1986, and had travelled to Japan and South Korea as one of the competition favorites.

Media invention

But Bianchi dismissed the idea as a media invention.

"When people get bored, people make things up. That's what happens nowadays," he said.

Boca are now "treble" champions after winning South America's Libertadores Cup, and comprehensively claiming the Argentine league title with three games to spare in the Apertura season.

But with a mainly Argentine squad who are paid a fraction of the wages earned by players in Europe, Boca now face a fight to hang onto their biggest stars.

The most high-profile of those is 19-year-old Carlos Tevez, the current golden boy of the Bombonera and the apparent successor to former Boca and Argentina maestro Diego Maradona, who appears destined to join the steady flow of Argentine talent across the Atlantic.

Tricky draw for Boca

Holders Boca were handed a tricky assignment in Wednesday's draw for the first round of next year's South American Libertadores Cup.

The Argentines landed in Group Eight along with a team from Colombia still to be decided, Chile's most popular club Colo Colo, and Bolivar from Bolivia.

Although the national team is in a slump, Colombian club sides have improved dramatically recently, with Medellin and America both semifinalists in last year's Libertadores and Atletico Nacional knocking Boca out of this year's Copa Sudamericana.

Colo Colo are the only Chilean club to have won the competition while Bolivar are always difficult at home in La Paz where they play at 3,600 meters above sea level.

Brazilian champions Cruzeiro were drawn in Group Three along with Mexico's first representative, who will be decided in a mini-tournament in January, Chilean provincal club Universidad de Concepcion and Venezuelan champions Caracas FC.


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