The trouble is not a direct consequence of those things that make Argentine soccer so appealing, but it is a result of allowing them to slip from control, to let them be used as justification for anything. And, to Argentina, it is a source of shame that on Saturday night, it showed that side to the world.
As Boca Juniors’ bus approached Estadio Monumental a couple of hours before kickoff, it turned down Avenida Monroe, a well-known gathering spot for River fans before games and not, as a rule, the route a visiting team would take. It was traveling quickly, flanked by police outriders.
But as it slowed to turn a corner, the bus was confronted by hundreds of River fans. They threw stones, sticks and bottles. The windows shattered. The driver fainted. A Boca vice president, Horacio Paolini, had to take the wheel. The police, according to several reports, fired pepper spray to disperse the crowd. It drifted inside the bus.
A few moments later, Boca arrived at the stadium, its players coughing, retching, their throats burning from the gas. Shards of glass had hit two players, Pablo Pérez and Gonzalo Lamardo, in the eye. Others had been cut by the debris.
“We had come to play a game, and we found a completely different situation,” said Marcelo London, a Boca official.
Boca immediately requested that the game be canceled or postponed. Conmebol, the competition organizer, demurred. It had a commitment to its broadcaster, Fox Sports. The Argentine government, with a summit meeting of the G20 to start in Buenos Aires this week, wanted this match out of the way.