While Europe has the Champions League with money, glamor, and organization, the Copa Libertadores played in South America is all about grit, passion and unpredictability.
Saturday’s match between Argentina’s two biggest clubs – known as the Superclasico – is almost as much about the fans as the players. The threat of chaos, both on and off the field, is omnipresent.
The two teams drew the first leg 2-2 at Boca’s hallowed Bombonera ground in Buenos Aires on Nov. 11. The decisive second leg takes place this Saturday at River Plate’s Monumental stadium on the other side of town.
For the most passionate of followings, it is all or nothing.
“This is a very important match, we cannot lose,” said Vicente Zucala, a 29-year old blind fan of River Plate. “If we lose, we’re done, it will all be over.”
Boca have won the Libertadores six times and River have won it three, but this is the first time in the competition’s 58-year they have met in the final.
Both matches were sold out, with people coming from all over the world just to soak up the atmosphere.
“River Plate for me is my life, my passion,” said Byron Stuardo Alquijay, a 33-year old who came from Guatemala. “I had to sell my car to come here. I might buy another car in the future but this match will never be repeated.”
Unlike in the past, when rival fans could occupy either end of the stadium praying for a chance to taunt their opponents, only home fans have tickets for the final’s two matches.
Away fans have been banned from Argentine derby matches because of recurring trouble between competing sets of barras bravas, the name given to the organised fan groups who roar their support from the terraces.
“The Superclasico between Boca and River is so important because the fans are so passionate,” said Cayetano Milon, a 51-year old Boca fan who runs a shop next to the Bombonera.
That rawness is what appeals to many old-school fans and what makes the Libertadores so different from the Champions League and European football in general.