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Boca bus attack forces Copa Libertadores final postponement

Boca Juniors' captain Pablo Perez (with cap) returns from hospital to the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires ahead of the Copa Libertadores final
Boca Juniors' captain Pablo Perez (with cap) returns from hospital to the Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires ahead of the Copa Libertadores final AFP
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Buenos Aires (AFP)

Saturday's "superclasico" Copa Libertadores final second leg between Argentine arch rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors was postponed until Sunday following an attack on the Boca team bus that left players affected by smoke inhalation and broken glass.

Alejandro Dominguez, the president of competition organizers Conmebol told FOX television that the two teams had agreed to the postponement and the game will now take place at River's Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires at 5pm (2000 GMT) on Sunday.

"I want to congratulate both club presidents because there has been a gentleman's agreement between them," said Dominguez, head of South American football's governing body.

"In these conditions the game was distorted. One team couldn't play and the other doesn't want to play against a rival that isn't in the right conditions."

Conmebol originally delayed the match more than two hours when Boca players were affected by tear gas and broken glass after their team bus was pelted with "pepper spray, sticks and stones" on the way to the stadium.

Despite the bus travelling through the streets of the upmarket Nunez neighborhood towards River's ground under police guard, it came under fire from projectiles thrown by a group of the home side's fans.

There were also scuffles outside the ground as supporters waited for the match to begin.

- 'Attacked from everwhere' -

After Conmebol's original decision just to delay the match, Boca veteran Carlos Tevez spoke to Fox television and complained: "We're not in a condition to play. They're forcing us to play."

Boca players were left coughing and teary eyed after the attack that shattered several of their bus's windows.

"They attacked us from everywhere," said Boca captain Pablo Perez, who was taken to a local hospital for treatment before returning to the ground.

"Pablo has just returned from hospital and has a bandage on his eye," added Tevez, a former Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus forward.

"Other team-mates have cuts. We've only just been able to breathe well because we were affected by the gas. We can't play like this," said Tevez, who won the Copa Libertadores in 2003 during his first of three stints with Boca.

However, the two sides later came to an agreement to hold off until Sunday for what has been dubbed the biggest club match in the history of Argentine football.

It is the first time ever two Argentine teams have contested the final of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of Europe's Champions League.

The two sides are locked at 2-2 from the first leg two weeks ago at Boca's iconic Bombonera stadium, which was also delayed 24 hours but due to the weather.

Conmebol had originally seemed to be insisting the game go ahead and a statement from its medical commission shown on television said some players had suffered "superficial cuts" and that there was no medical reason to postpone the match.

- 'Overwhelmed by vandalism' -

Although central defender Carlos Izquierdoz said River fans had thrown pepper spray as well as sticks and stones, a Boca official told the press that the gas came from the police trying to disperse the attackers.

"There was a lack of control in the last streets close to the Monumental. The police were overwhelmed by all the vandalism and had to disperse the River fans with tear gas," said the unnamed official.

"Because of the wind and the broken windows, it entered the bus."

There will be no Boca fans at the second leg as travelling support has been banned at all Argentine football matches since 2013 due to hooliganism.

Football-related violence has cost the lives of more than 300 fans in Argentina over the last 50 years, according to figures from the Salvemos al Futbol (Let's save football) charity.

This local encounter is widely viewed as the fiercest rivalry in world football.

River have won the Copa Libertadores three times, the last of those coming in 2015.

Boca are six-time winners, a record bettered only by fellow Argentines Independiente with seven, but last lifted the trophy more than a decade ago.

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