Toxic Spray Attack on Soccer Players Halts Game in Argentina

  • Four River Plate players taken to specialist burn center
  • Boca Juniors stadium shut by police to preserve evidence
Prosecutors are investigating a toxic spray attack on River Plate players as they entered the field for the second half of last night’s Libertadores Cup soccer game at Buenos Aires rival Boca Juniors.

In chaotic scenes broadcast live in Latin America, River players ripped off their shirts and splashed water into their eyes upon exiting an inflatable tunnel at Boca’s Bombonera stadium. Officials waited more than an hour before canceling the game after which four River players were taken to a specialist burns treatment center. Initial reports said the substance appeared to be similar to pepper spray.

“I can’t see, I can’t see. I am burning. This is not a war,” River Plate defender Ramiro Funes Mori said in comments broadcast live as police, club officials and delegates from the the regional soccer body responsible for the competition entered the field.

River was defending a 1-0 victory from the home leg of the round-of-16 match in South America’s elite club competition. The two teams share the continent’s biggest rivalry, known as the ‘Super Clasico,’ and games have often led to violence on and off the field. The match was without a goal as the River players returned from halftime.

Before the attack, a man standing with Boca fans at La Bombonera stadium was filmed apparently using tools to pierce a temporary tunnel between the visiting locker room and the field aimed at protecting players.

“The stadium has been closed down to preserve eventual evidence,” Martin Ocampo, Buenos Aires city’s general prosecutor, told TN television network on Friday. “We requested copies of all the filming done by the club.”

River coach Marcelo Gallardo called the incident “absolutely shameful.”

River was allowed to progress to the quarterfinals, following a decision by tournament organizers. South American soccer’s regional body Conmebol also opened disciplinary proceedings against Boca.

Soccer violence in Argentina is commonplace. The government has banned visiting fans from attending games in an effort to curb the problem. That decision followed 18 deaths linked to soccer violence in 2013, according to a website run by Danish Institute of Sports Studies.

Fan violence though is not isolated to Argentina. Neighboring Brazil is also affected by the problem as are leagues in Europe, including Greece where the championship was suspended in February.

Even after the game was suspended, River players had to wait on the field until police could form a tunnel with shields to protect them from bottles and other objects being thrown by fans when they exited. Smoke bombs could also be seen billowing from the turf behind one of the goals.

The tunnel was branded with the logo of tire maker Bridgestone Corp., the tournament sponsor. Boca, the former club of Diego Maradona, and River are both sponsored by Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA.

“It’s a shame what happened, a world class screwup,” Boca President Daniel Angelici said in the aftermath. “I want to identify those responsible.”
In a press conference today, Angelici said the substance used doesn’t appear to be pepper spray but another “toxic liquid” that’s been sent to a lab for identification.

Much of the violence can be traced to powerful organized supporter groups, known as Barras Bravas. Members have been known to influence the election of club presidents, intimidate rivals and attack underperforming players. Boca’s players applauded a group that had been throwing debris on the field as they eventually made their way off.

The stadium will remain closed until the investigation is complete. The probe will also include a look at how a drone bearing a reference to River’s brief demotion to the second tier in 2011 was able to buzz the field.

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