Corinthians fans slam ban over Colombia death as 'unfair'
Sao Paulo's Corinthians fans slammed as unfair and unjustified a decision to bar them from attending their home team's Libertadores Cup matches over the flare death of a Colombian youth.
The ban was imposed by the South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) after a boy was killed by a flare launched by a Corinthians fan during the Sao Paulo side's away game against San Jose in the Colombian town of Oruro last week.
Conmenbol's decision caused widespread consternation in this soccer-mad Brazilian metropolis where Corinthians, who won the Libertadores Cup for the first time last July, enjoy broad support.
But rumors that irate fans would stage a protest outside Pacaembu stadium during Wednesday night's Libertadores match between Corinthians and Millonarios of Colombia did not materialize.
Gavioes da Fiel, Corinthians' main fan club, told its more than 96,000 members to comply with the Conmebol ban and stay away from the stadium to avoid any trouble.
Only a handful of Corinthians fans who were unaware of the Conmebol ban managed to get inside and watched their team easily defeat Millonarios 2-0.
Outside the stadium, which was sealead off, about 100 young fans turned up to noisely express their support as police in cars and on horseback kept watch and a helicopter circled overhead.
"What happened in Colombia was a tragedy but we had nothing to do with it," said 38-year-old Leonardo Guimaraes, a member of Gavioes da Fiel.
"It is unfair to punish us when those responsible are the youth who fired the flare and the Colombian security (at the stadium) which did not do its job," he added.
Sunday, a 17-year-old Corinthians fan took responsibility for the death of 14-year-old Kevin Espada during Wednesday's 1-1 draw in Oruro.
In the wake of the incident, Bolivian police detained 12 other Corinthians fans.
Conmebol ordered Corinthians to play their home Libertadores Cup matches behind closed doors until further notice and ruled that fans of the Sao Paulo club would also be prevented from buying tickets for away matches.
"I think it's a real shame that we cannot attend the match tonight. It's unfair," said 20-year-old Felipe de Oliveira as he waved a huge black banner with Corinthians' colors.
What they lacked in numbers, the fans made up with unbridled exuberance.
Throughout the game, they danced, clapped and chanted "Corinthians, the team of the People" or "We are the powerful Timao," using another name for the team.
A first goal by Paolo Guerrero in the 10th minute was greeted with howls of joy and frantic dancing spurred on by the beat of drums.
The die-hard fans, using their smartphones to follow the match, also wildy cheered the second goal scored by Alexander Pato.
Meanwhile, Sergio Rossetto Silva, president of Clube do Torcedor, a sports company, told AFP that Bolivian police bear responsibility for last week's tragedy for having allowed fans to enter the stadium with dangerous items such as flares in the first place.
"To punish Corinthians is unfair," he added. "We have a program to educate organized fan groups to avoid such tragedies."
After winning the Libertadores Cup last July, Corinthians went on to beat Chelsea in the final of the Club World Cup in Japan in December.
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