WHY COPA LIBERTADORES IS BIGGER THAN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Champions League. The place where the richest and biggest clubs in the world dispute the most important trophy of the season. Home of superstars, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar. Multi-millionaire prizes, amazing stadiums, people from all over the globe watching, and foreigners paying a lot of money for the best seats. But we should ask a question: Where is the real love for football in this competition?
Apart from a few clubs, especially from the the Eastern European countries, Champions League is much more of a business rather than a true passion. Of course, football-wise, it is a championship that gathers simply the best, but in terms of atmosphere, oh my god, we can’t even compare it with Copa Libertadores.
From Chile to Brazil, From Venezuela to Argentina. South America is the continent when you want to experience real football cultures and passion. And Copa Libertadores es obsesión. The tournament is organized by Conmebol and it happens throughout the year, where the best clubs compete to win a ticket to the World Cup of Clubs. In 2018, for instance, all the big ones are competing: Boca Juniors, River Plate, Corinthians, Palmeiras, Nacional, Peñarol, Colo-Colo, Cerro Porteño, Atlético Nacional among others.
Here, the best talents show up to the world and generally, are sold to the big clubs in Europe for millions of euros. But we don’t want to talk about the money that involves football; we want to focus on the atmosphere that South Americans feel when our club plays 0n a Wednesday night of Copa Libertadores.
Flags, drums, flares – the atmosphere is mental
Huge flags, drums, flares, fireworks, pyros, and stadiums packed with fans chanting for their clubs is a must. We are allowed by Conmebol to bring almost everything to make the party in the stands the most beautiful one. Forget the European scarfs, people either dress up with the whole kit or take off the shirt and show their tattoos to the world. Drums, barbecue, beer, party and football. That’s what is it all about. In the Copa Libertadores, fans have more freedom compared to the national competitions.
In the Copa Libertadores, the number of red cards equals the total goals, you can see dogs and other animals running from the stands towards the field in the middle of the game, players having to breathe through oxygen masks due to the high altitude of some countries, fights between players and supporters, ultras using pepper spray against the opposite team when they line up in the tunnel before the match even starts, and the home team shutting down all the lights of stadium when the club is losing an important match. This is Copa Libertadores.
Stories are here to prove why our competition is bigger than the Champions League.
Competing for a place in the quarterfinals for the most important tournament in South America, at La Bombonera, the Superclasico between Boca Juniors v River Plate was suspended after players from River Plate were hit by pepper spray after the first half, which left a suspenseful mood for over an hour until the refereeing trio stopped the match. Of course, Boca fans were the main responsible for that. At the same match, in the midst of all the confusion, a drone appeared flying over the field with a tease to the River, displaying a Series B ghost!
A week after the match, Conmebol banned Boca Juniors from this Libertadores and sent River Plate for the next round. In the end, they became champions that year.
I don’t know if it is something with the Argentinians, but they have some kind of mystic regarding the tournament, it’s their obsession. Boca Juniors, when they play at La Bombonera, there are two main entrance gates (away and home). And guess what? The away end is meant to be in the exact size of a regular bus, so the away team will feel intimidated from the moment they enter La Bombonera to play there. Also, when they go to the changing rooms, they are obligated to pass the wall of glass where Boca’s players are warming up. Then, the facility is just below the famous ultras La 12, so that means you have to put your kit on while the supporters are jumping and make an earthquake noise above you.
Because the continent is so big, logistics turn into a nightmare for the clubs. Once, when Atlético Tucumán, a small Argentinian club went to Ecuador to play against El Nacional, things got messy. They were making the preparation for the match in Quito, in order to get used to the 2,8000 altitudes. Their flight, on the same day as the match, obviously got delayed (in South America this is almost a must), and only 19 players went onboard because of “lack of documents” (Very common here. The authorities didn’t let the whole team get onboard with some silly excuses). They arrived 90 minutes late for the game and without any kit (boots, jerseys), as all of them got stuck at the airport. They got very lucky because the Under 20 South American League were held in the same city, and because they have the same colors as the national team, they borrowed (!) the kits from them to play the match. Unbelievable, they won the game and went through to the next round!
I can talk for days about the Copa Libertadores. Wednesday night is a must. It is the day you gather with your friends for a tasty barbecue and get prepared for a war. Home games in the Copa Libertadores, just full of tension. Every season when we travel with Homefans to South America, we always plan to attend a Copa Libertadores match, its nothing like that.
It is louder. It is pure passion. There is nothing to compare. You just have to feel it.
Copa Libertadores es mi obsesión.
By Pedro Godoy