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SAmerican soccer officials still get heat for Boca mayhem

South American soccer officials still getting heat for Boca Juniors mayhem vs. River Plate

SAmerican soccer officials still get heat for Boca mayhem

More than a week afterward, officials at Boca Juniors still believe the club was punished too harshly for the mayhem its fans caused in the Copa Libertadores round-of-16 match against bitter rival River Plate.

But save for Boca fans, many say the punishment from South America's governing body of football -- CONMEBOL -- was too lenient in the face of the chaos at Boca's La Bombonera stadium.

Boca was fined $200,000, forfeited the match and will have to play its next four international matches in an empty stadium after Boca hooligans sprayed River Plate players with a caustic substance as they entered the field for the second half.

But Boca was not kicked out of the tournament for the violence, a never-ending feature of Argentine football, in particular, and the South American game in general.

River Plate players, many temporarily blinded by the spray, huddled at the center of Boca's pitch for more than an hour before the game was suspended -- and another hour before they could leave the field, threatened by Boca fans throwing bottles, rocks and anything in reach.

CONMEBOL President Juan Angel Napout has defended how the match was handled.

"I recognize that at the beginning, when I still didn't know the seriousness of what was going on, I wanted the game to continue," Napout said.

Many were waiting for CONMEBOL to throw the book at Boca for what has become known "Peppergate."

Instead, the Buenos Aires club, and its notorious "barras bravas" -- essentially hooligan gangs -- received a slap on the wrist.

"The referee, the match supervisor -- nobody knew what to do," said Edgar Welker, a top official at Uruguay club Penarol. "There was total disorganization. Sadly, it was a display appropriate for third-world football."

CONMEBOL's security rules were openly breached in a game that was covered widely around the world. But there was little action.

"The punishment was benevolent," Welker said. "It should have been much tougher to try to get rid of this type of horrible incident -- the way European football has done."

Welker said Boca's monetary power and fan base kept CONMEBOL from acting.

"I have the impression if it had been another team, another country, there would have been a different punishment," he said.

Match referee Dario Herrera of Argentina said it was up to Roger Bello of Bolivia, the match supervisor, to suspend the game instead of letting players and fans linger in suspense.

But Bello said it was Herrera's call.

Sergio Berni, Argentina's top national security official, said that after two hours he told CONMEBOL officials they had five minutes to make a decision.

They did and suspended the game.

Former Argentine judge Mariano Berges, who helped form the nonprofit group "Let's Save Football" to battle football violence, blamed Argentine officials for lax security at the stadium.

"It's so clear that police and other officials should have suspended the game, faced with an unstable security situation like this," said Berges, who has campaigned against rampant football violence in Argentina. "Total responsibility for this tragedy, this embarrassing mess, is with the Argentine state and the federal police who were absolutely inefficient."

Updated : 2021-09-21 06:57 GMT+08:00