Argentine giant Boca Juniors has been booted out of the Copa Libertadores after its fans sprayed players from Buenos Aires rival River Plate with an irritant substance during the pair’s last-16 tie earlier this week.
A communique posted on the website of South American Football governing body (CONMEBOL) late Saturday revealed that Boca would also receive a $200,000 fine, be forced to play its next four home Libertadores matches behind closed doors and be banned from taking fans to its next four away games in the competition.
The incident happened at Boca’s Bombonera stadium as players emerged for the second half of a finely balanced two-legged match. The score was tied at 0-0 on the night with River leading 1-0 from the first leg at its crosstown Monumental Stadium a week earlier.
River players and staff were visibly shaken with some rubbing their eyes and pouring water over their faces to ease the pain.
“I can’t see, I can’t see. I am burning. This is not a war!” River defender Funes Mori was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
The match was abandoned shortly after and four River players were taken to hospital for treatment. As River players left the pitch, Boca fans pelted them with missiles and objects from the stands.
The South American equivalent to Europe’s Champions League, the Copa Libertadores has had safety issues in the past. In 2013, a Bolivian fan was killed by a flare fired by supporters of Brazilian club Corinthians.
Argentine football has also been scarred by numerous instances of fan violence in recent years.
A report from the football reform group, Salvemos del Futbol, found that an average of five people died each year from fan related violence in Argentina between 2000 and 2009, according to the Reuters news agency.
Boca and River are two of the biggest clubs in Argentina and have a long and distinguished rivalry that has often been accompanied by trouble between fans off the pitch.
Speaking to CNN on Friday, Argentine sports lawyer Ariel Reck described the depth of the hooliganism issue in the Argentinian game.
“The violence in Argentine football exist at all levels, from River and Boca down to the smallest match of the lowest division,” Reck said.
“We already have a prohibition for away fans to attend games,” added the lawyer, who also suggested it was time for the authorities to “impose heavy sanctions for violence such as point deduction, relegation, or playing games behind closed doors.”
Boca president Daniel Angelici had told reporters in a news conference Friday that Boca “will accept the responsibility that we have” in relation to Thursday’s abandoned match.
However, he added that the players were not responsible and that there was only so much the club could do to prevent incidents like this from occurring.
“An aerosol is small, I don’t know how it works, but it is very powerful, it can fit in your pocket and when there are almost 50,000 people it can get by security,” he said.
Angelici also pleaded for people to recognize that “this is society’s problem, not football’s problem.”