With a record 33 Primera Division championships to its name, Argentina’s Club Atlético River Plate its supporters expect to compete for domestic and international titles each and every season. And with a nickname like “Los Millonarios,” who would expect anything less?
But entering the second-leg of a playoff against Belgrano on Sunday needing a two-goal margin of victory just to remain in the top division, River Plate fans watched in horror over the final minutes as the unthinkable became reality.
For the first time in their storied 110-year history, River Plate will be relegated to the second division.
With all hope lost, enraged fans began to rip seats out of their home stadium in Buenos Aires and hurl them, and any other projectiles they could find, onto the pitch. The match was abondoned with one minute left to play and the teams tied at 1-1.
Fans were sprayed with high-power water hoses but the cold shower did little to quel the hot tempers of the team’s supporters as violence spilled outside of the stadium and into the streets. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and hand-to-hand combat to control the masses, but with little success.
In all 89 people were injured and 55 individuals were detained by police. No romancing in the streets has been reported to this point.
Even more worrisome for the country at large is the impact the riot scenes could have on Argentina’s plans to host the upcoming Copa America tournament. The South American national team championship is scheduled to begin Friday in La Plata. As usual, Brazil and Argentina are the favorites.
CONMEBOL spokesman Nestor Benitez insisted the tournament final, scheduled for July 24 at River Plate’s stadium, will go on as planned.
“"Fans can rest easily,” Benitez said. “The Copa America final will be played at River Plate's stadium."
At the very least, they’ll need a few new seats.
This is the second large-scale sports related riot following a devastating loss for a home team in three weeks after fans ravaged Vancouver following the Canucks’ Game 7 loss to Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals.