MADRID — Boca Juniors players have had enough of all the talk about the Copa Libertadores chaos and say it is time to start focusing on the match.
The squad had its first practice session in Madrid on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s rearranged final second leg against Argentine rival River Plate at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
“It’s important to have a clear mind and to try to focus as quick as possible on what is the most important thing ahead of us right now, which is a Copa Libertadores final,” Boca forward Carlos Tevez said. “What we have to talk about is this match.”
Boca and River drew the first leg 2-2 at the former’s La Bombonera Stadium in Buenos Aires. The return match was due to be staged at River’s Monumental Stadium in the same city on Nov. 24, but was postponed after fans attacked the bus taking Boca players to the game.
After back-and-forth discussions about what to do with the match, South American soccer’s ruling body CONMEBOL moved it to Madrid because of security concerns.
“That’s all in the past now,” Boca midfielder Wilmar Barrios said. “We will be playing an important match, at a great stadium, and hopefully it will be a nice spectacle.”
Several cities wanted to host the game but CONMEBOL picked the Spanish capital partly because it has a large Argentine population. Tens of thousands of fans are expected to travel from Buenos Aires to watch the match.
“It’s important to have their support here. We know things are not easy in Argentina,” Tevez said. “I’m sorry for the fans, but this is not the players’ fault. It’s CONMEBOL that decided to play a Copa Libertadores match here without thinking about the fans or about the players.”
Heavy security is expected, with the authorities concerned about the violent fan groups that could be arriving.
Spanish media said a leader of a Boca supporters’ group was not allowed to enter the country after arriving in Madrid on Thursday and was sent back to Argentina.
“This is an important example for the Argentines,” Tevez said. “It’s a message that you can do things well if you want to. It’s an example that you can detain these violent fans if you want to.”
Boca is seeking its seventh title in South America’s Champions League equivalent, which would tie Argentina’s Independiente as the competition’s most successful club. Boca’s last continental crown was won in 2007.
River is a three-time Copa winner, with its latest victory coming in 2015. The Argentine giants had never previously met in the final.
River arrived early on Thursday to begin its preparations.
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press