The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) has selected the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, home of Spanish LaLiga club Real Madrid, as the new host of the second leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores final, citing the infrastructure on offer in the Spanish capital and the fact that Spain has the world’s largest expat Argentine community.
Stadia from across the world were linked to the game after CONMEBOL on Tuesday ruled that it should take place outside Argentina following the fan violence that led to the cancellation of Saturday’s match at El Monumental, the home of Superliga club River Plate.
River was due to face off against arch rival Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires at the weekend after the first leg of South American club football’s biggest game finished 2-2 at Boca’s La Bombonera stadium on November 11.
However, Boca’s team bus was attacked by River fans as it travelled to El Monumental resulting in injuries to at least six players. Despite the stadium being filled to capacity, CONMEBOL was forced to postpone the game to Sunday before calling it off for good after Boca complained that a fair contest could not be guaranteed if the match took place at the 70,000-capacity El Monumental.
The Mineirão stadium in Minas Gerais, Brazil, had reportedly put its name forward, while the Italian city of Genoa and US city of Miami were also linked to the game. Abu Dhabi had also been touted as a potential host, along with the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion and Colombia.
On Thursday evening, CONMEBOL said that after analysing various proposals, the Bernabéu will stage the match on December 9 at 8:30pm CET, with fans of both River and Boca granted access under equal conditions.
CONMEBOL president Alejandro Domínguez said: “Football should be a sports party, where all fans can attend. We want to remind South America and the world that football can and should be lived in peace, and that sports passion and respect for the rival are complementary values that can coexist.”
CONMEBOL citied seven main reasons behind its decision including security guarantees provided by the City of Madrid and the Spanish state; the quality of the Bernabéu as a venue, the strong logistical, accommodation and public transportation facilities in Madrid; and the presence in Spain of more than 250,000 Argentines.
Domínguez added: “Madrid is a city that gives us all the guarantees for the prompt and correct organisation of this event in a context of exceptional circumstances. Not only is it among the safest cities in the world, but the Santiago Bernabéu is an elite stadium that offers the highest standards of safety and comfort to play a match of this magnitude.
“In addition, the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport has the largest number of connections to Latin America. All this guarantees us the conditions for the CONMEBOL Libertadores 2018 to be defined on the field and by the club that will score the most goals in the final.”
CONMEBOL yesterday also rejected a request from Boca that it should be declared the winners of the final due to the weekend’s incident, while also fining River $400,000 (£312,455/€351,295) and ordering the club to play its next two continental competition matches behind closed doors.
The Copa Libertadores final has traditionally been a two-leg affair, but from 2019 will switch to a one-off game at a venue selected by CONMEBOL. The inaugural edition of this new format will take place in the Chilean capital of Santiago and CONMEBOL added that the staging of this year’s finale in Madrid is purely due to the exceptional nature of the situation.
Image: Real Madrid