Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina's River Plate lose historic relegation fight

Police used water cannon to disperse River Plate fans at the end of the match against Belgrano in Buenos Aires (26 June 2011)
Image caption Police used water cannon to disperse River Plate fans at the end of the match

One of the great clubs of South American football, River Plate, have been relegated from the Argentine first division for the first time in their 110-year history.

River needed to win by two clear goals to escape dropping to the country's "B" league.

But the team managed only a 1-1 draw against Belgrano de Cordoba.

The match, held in River's stadium in Buenos Aires, had to be abandoned in the final minute, amid chaotic scenes.

Police fired water cannon up into the stands, following a pitch invasion by furious River fans.

And they had to escort players from both teams from the field, as home supporters hurled a barrage of objects over the perimeter fence.

The violence continued after the game, with clashes outside the stadium between hardcore fans and helmeted riot police, as helicopters hovered overhead.

More than 2,000 police had been deployed before the game in an unparalleled security operation for a club game.

Medical sources report that at least 25 people have been injured.

Fierce contest

Image caption River Plate's fate seemed sealed after Mariano Pavone missed a penalty

The game itself was a fiercely fought contest.

River had gone 1-0 up within the first five minutes.

But they saw their lead slip in the second half, after a well-taken Belgrano goal.

Then the man who had scored River's goal, Mariano Pavone, had a penalty saved, to the stunned reaction of more than 50,000 home fans.

And that effectively sealed their fate.

By the end of the game, some of their players were in tears.

River, which has won more domestic titles than any other club, was one of only three never to have dropped out of the first division.

Many commentators have described it as a drop into the "abyss".

'Executioner' not to blame

Argentina's press reacted to the result with disbelief.

The national daily, Clarin, wrote: "No-one, absolutely no-one, will be able to forget this day."

It said while Belgrano had been the "executioner", they did not bear most of the responsibility for River's fate.

And it added that "even the poor refereeing... and the management errors" that had helped bring the club to this point did not justify the incidents at the end of the game.

Image caption Police were among the injured in the troubles that marred the match

"Incredible but real" was the headline in the sports paper, Ole.

It flagged up the fact that River's descent has been presided over by one of its all-time greatest players - Daniel Passarella, the club's current president.

In recent weeks, River's fans have reacted angrily to a string of poor results, demanding his resignation.

It has been a steep fall from grace for Passarella, the man who captained Argentina's World Cup winning squad in 1978.

He was idolised by River's supporters when he played for club.

River's decline on the pitch has been mirrored by financial problems.

The club is currently carrying an estimated $19m (£12m) of debts, which have forced it to sell off several young stars - players like Javier Saviola - to European clubs.

It might now be forced to sell more, compounding the fans' depression.

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