Buenos Aires, the largest city in Argentina, plays host to a phenomenon at least twice a year. A phenomenon known to us as ‘Superclásico’ – a football game between two of the most successful and popular clubs in South America – Boca Juniors and River Plate. Buenos Aires comes to a standstill when these two rivals meet. Everything becomes secondary on match day; all thoughts of work disappear, discussions dominate the conversation and city people who are not able to witness the spectacle in the stadium gather around any available television. Such is the grandeur of this match, that 70% of all Argentinian football fans are supporters of either Boca Juniors or River Plate, and the British newspaper, The Observer, rated viewership of this match as the number one in the TOP fifty Sporting things to do before dying.
Club Atlético Boca Juniors
The Club Atlético Boca Juniors (usually known by its short name, “Boca”) is located in the neighborhood of La Boca in the City of Buenos Aires. The club has been a home to a lot of players, who went on to become masters of the game. Diego Maradona, the Argentinian football legend, is a staunch Boca supporter, and even has a personal box at the home ground – La Bombanera. Boca Juniors are also famous for the record of holding the maximum number of international titles, the honour which they share with Italy’s A.C Milan. Boca plays in the traditional blue and yellow coloured jerseys, which earned them the name La Azul y Oro (The Blue and Gold). Legend has it that they decided to adopt the colors of the flag of the first boat to sail into the port at La Boca. This proved to be a Swedish vessel sailing from Copenhagen. As a result, the yellow and blue of the Swedish flag were adopted as the team colors.
Both the clubs have bred many Legends of the Game:
Alfredo Di Stefano(River Plate) with Diego Armando Maradona(Boca Juniors)
Club Atlético River Plate
The Club Atlético River Plate, also referred to as River Plate or simply River, is located in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Nunez, and plays at the Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti. The club has also produced a number of world class players and has had achieved success in the world of football, at par with its arch rivals Boca. Alfredo Di Stefano, the all time Real Madrid legend, was a graduate from River Plate’s academy. Due to the red band in their shirt, River is also called El Equipo de la Banda Roja (the team with the red band) or simply La Banda (which also means “the band” -both as in “gang” and “musical group”). River too, like Boca, has provided Argentina with amazing talent. The current captain of Argentina’s national side, Javier Mascherano, hails from River Plate.
Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor?
The rivalry between the clubs started mainly due to the difference in the financial status of the two clubs. Both clubs have their origins in La Boca, the working class dockland area of Buenos Aires. However, River moved to the prosperous district of Núñez in 1925. Since then, Boca Juniors has been known as the club of Argentina’s working class or the people’s club, with many Boca fans coming from the local Italian immigrant community. Boca fans are actually known as Xeneizes (Genoese). By contrast, River Plate became known by the nickname, Los Millonarios (The Millionaires), with a supposedly upper-class support base.
The Superclásico is an occasion for fifty thousand fans to be chanting a medley of antagonistic, vitriolic, hostile and just plain offensive songs for two hours, mixed in with a bit of violence before or after the ninety minutes. La Bombonera is world famous for trembling when fans start to jump in tandem; in particular, the unique vertical side will sway slightly, leading to the phrase, “The Bombonera does not tremble. It beats.”
The chances of finding an unprejudiced local football fan in Buenos Aires are remote. The stature of this rivalry is so high, that following either Boca Juniors or River Plate runs like family traditions in the city, and riots are common between the rival groups. The passion of the fans is so exuberant, that BBC went on to call the atmosphere in the stadium as:
“A sea of colourful flowing banners, screams and roars, chanting, dancing and never-ending fireworks.“
Boca Fans with Tifos at La Bombonera
The game between Boca Juniors and River Plate is the most awaited game in Argentine football. Although over the years, the fixture has usually gone some way to determining who will win the title, the encounters in the past two seasons has done no such thing. In the current season, River find themselves in mid-table, thanks to an aging squad, a new president and an eccentric recruitment policy. Boca are in even worse shape, languishing in the bottom three.
The regular players are old in both the teams, and the young ones are lured by the prospect of playing for rich European clubs. It won’t be wrong to say that the money attracts the prodigies to play for European Clubs or in MLS, where higher salaries are promised.
March 21st, 2010 saw the Superclásico being called off for the first time, due to heavy torrential rains. Instead of equally dividing the points among both teams, the game got rescheduled for March 25th 2010, at La Bombanera. It was to continue from where it had been paused earlier, that is, from the 9th minute. The game got underway with Boca under immense pressure to win the game at their home, and a brace by Gary Medel meant that they managed to humble their arch rivals 2-0.
Boca has been performing poorly this season, and a win was just what the doctor ordered for them. The game resumed with Gary Medel putting the home side in front in the 14th minute by sticking out a leg to Juan Roman Riquelme’s low free-kick under the wall. River Plate seemed dazed and confused by the opener, as Boca kept on applying the pressure.
Martin “Saint” Palermo played his heart out in the anticipation of a goal that would make him the highest goalscorer for Boca, and he obviously wanted it to be against the arch rivals at home, but it was not to be. Medel bagged a second goal in the 49th minute, from which River never recovered. However, the Chilean striker did not last the entire game, after earning his second booking fifteen minutes from time.
River’s captain Marcelo Gallardo tried to give the home team some fight though some intricate smart play, but it was Boca’s day to say the least. Riquelme was the architect for Boca in this win, as he orchestrated the whole side in a beautiful manner, proving why he has been considered a class apart in Midfield.
The presence of Diego Maradona at the Superclásico has been a common sighting now, ever since he’s been awarded a special box at La Bombonera. Even in this match, the legend graced the occasion with his presence, and was the center of attraction before the game when the stewards were busy cleaning the paper rolls thrown on the pitch – a tradition among the fans.
It was yet another feast of football for the fans, and the Superclásico well and truly lived up to its reputation once again.