Argentine football giants relegated amid violence

27 June 2011 06:00

Legendary Argentine football giants River Plate were relegated from the country's top division for the first time in their 110-year history, amid tears and scenes of violent mayhem.

The Buenos Aires team are Argentina's most successful club with 33 championships to their name, and their rivalry with Boca Juniors, based in the same city, is one of the most intense in all sport.

But there will be no Superclasicos next season unless the two sides draw each other in a cup competition, after River Plate were held 1-1 at home in the second leg of a promotion-relegation playoff with lowly Belgrano de Cordoba.

The Primera B side had won the first leg 2-0, meaning River Plate had to win by two clear goals to stay up under the play-off system rules.

The Millionaires, as the team are known, got off to the best possible start, Mariano Pavone scoring after just five minutes.

But they failed to settle and Guillermo Farre silenced the 50,000-crowd in the Estadio Monumental with an equaliser for the Cordobans in the 61st minute.

Pavone had a chance to put River Plate back in command with a penalty just nine minutes later, but his spot kick was turned aside by goalkeeper Juan Carlos Olave.

As violence erupted among supporters, referee Sergio Pezzotta brought the tie to a close on 89 minutes, giving Belgrano a 3-1 aggregate win and a place in history, as well as in the Primera Division.

Juan Jose Lopez's players, having brought their illustrious club to an unprecedented low on a cold winter afternoon, spent several minutes hugging each other, in tears, before leaving the pitch.

Belgrano de Cordoba departed under a hail of missiles from the home crowd, as firefighters sprayed water hoses into the stands to try to restore order.

The violence soon spread to the streets outside the stadium, where police used horses and water cannon to control furious fans, television footage showed.

The clashes left 68 people injured, 50 arrested and 15 vehicles destroyed, according to the Federal Police. Two officers were "in serious condition with head injuries from being hit by projectiles," police said.

About 2,200 police had been deployed for the match.

The 3,000 Belgrano fans who had made the journey to the capital were unable to leave the stadium for two hours, and it was another hour before the River Plate players and staff could do so, under heavy police escort.

"We will resist, we will reformulate the club from now on," said Daniel Passarella, River Plate's president, who captained Argentina's 1978 World Cup-winning side but who is blamed by some fans for the team's decline.

The club, named for the English version of the Rio de la Plata which divides Argentina and Uruguay, were formed in 1901 and earned their nickname in the 1930s, when their resources saw them acquire players from rival clubs for huge transfer fees.

As well as their domestic titles -- the last of them in 2008 -- they have won two Copa Libertadores, the Intercontinental Cup, the Supercopa Sudamericana and the Copa Interamericana.

Boca and Independiente are now the only sides never to have been relegated from Argentina's Primera Division.

Source: AFP