Argentina gears up for River-Boca derby
Argentina's Superclasico between Boca Juniors and River Plate takes place on Sunday, an historic and tragedy-tinged match once described as the world's most intense sporting experience.
More is riding on the game at River's Monumental Stadium than usual as fans have had to be patient for this one -- they have waited 17 months for a derby owing to River's first ever relegation from the top flight the season before last.
Argentinian football grew from locals watching British migrant workers play the game in their spare time more than a century ago.
And although the homeland of football has no shortage of big derbies of its own from the Manchester and north London versions to Liverpool versus Everton and Newcastle against Sunderland, even British media agree that emotions run even higher when it comes to Boca and River.
The Observer newspaper once opined that a match between the pair was a 'must do before you die' while tabloid The Sun dubbed a game between the two as "the world's most intense sporting experience".
The British dock workers of decades ago were dubbed "those crazy English" as they organised makeshift but hard-fought matches in a gritty part of Buenos Aires where Boca and River have their roots, having been founded by Italian immigrants, though River moved in the 1920s to a more upmarket area.
"Argentinians are generally passionate by nature -- for good or for bad," says writer Eduardo Sacheri, who co-scripted with Juan Jose Campanella the Oscar-winning film "El secreto de sus ojos" (the secret in their eyes).
"Football is a powerful, basic ingredient -- very visible in our lives, a deeply-ingrained habit.
"The day Boca-River meet the country seems to come to a halt to watch it on TV and few wholly escape its influence -- not even those who support other teams."
Both sets of fans pin their hopes on the outcome heading for the ground decked out in their respective colours and all kinds of paraphernalia from tickertape to flags and flares, chanting undying loyalty to their side.
Another literary football fanatic, the late writer Roberto Fontanarrosa, hailed not from Buenos Aires but Rosario, yet he too was bewitched by a Boca-River derby.
"I used to ask myself: Why am I nervous if I am a fan of Rosario Central? It's difficult not to be. There is an electrical charge, a dynamic energy charge -- regardless of whether the game is good, bad or just ordinary," he once said.
Real Madrid fans will say their tussles with Barcelona top even a Boca-River game, while supporters of the Milan clubs will make their own claim, as will fans of Rangers and Celtic or Brazilian rivals Flamengo and Fluminense or Palmeiras and Corinthians.
Yet World Soccer Magazine proffers the judgment that a Boca-River meeting is "rivalled by nothing else in the world when it comes to its passion and intensity".
Passion, intensity -- and tragedy. The latter came after a dour 0-0 draw in 1968, when 90,000 poured into the Monumental and 71 were crushed to death in the worst tragedy to hit Argentinian football.
Going down in the annals for a happier reason was a legendary strike by Diego Maradona in a 3-0 win for Boca at their Bombonera cauldron of a ground.
Boca, standing fifth in the table currently to River's ninth, are seen as the working class side with River traditionally identified with the middle class -- yet the latter have in recent years earned brickbats for the emergence of their own "barrabrava" or hooligan element.
A study by pollsters Gallup say some 40 percent of Argentinians are fans of Boca and 30 of River -- but the remaining 30 are likely to be glued to their screens as well.
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