CONTROVERSY AS SAO PAULO WINS COPA SUDAMERICANA

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Lucas Moura (right) and Rogerio Ceni (left) celebrate Sao Paulo’s Copa Sudamericana triumph *** image courtesy of thenational.ae ***

Confetti and ticker tape filled the podium. Lucas Moura was standing high. He lifted the Copa Sudamericana trophy – South America’s version of the UEFA Europa League – high into the skies. That could only mean one thing. Sao Paulo FC were Copa Sudamericana 2012 champions.

However, it is not as easy as that.

The story surrounding Sao Paulo’s win can only be referred to as bizarre. The 2nd leg of the Final between the Brazilian club and Argentina’s Club Atletico Tigre started at exactly 00.00 GMT on 12/12/12 at the Estadio Morumbi in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo. This game however, did not end…

Not because an apocalyptic event brought the world to an end on 13/12/12 (although it was still 12/12/12 in South America). But because when the half time break was over, Tigre refused to come out for the 2nd half. The referee, after failing to convince them otherwise, first, suspended the game. Then, declared it abandoned.

Sao Paulo were at the time leading 2-0. As the first leg had ended 0-0 in Argentina, Sao Paulo were in the lead on aggregate. Thus, they became Copa Sudamericana campeones for 2012.

Still, it is not as easy that.

For amidst all the celebration that followed after was the confusion and controversy before – and after. Aside from the two goals scored, there had been incident. And incidents. The game had been played in bad spirit. Already, there were six yellow cards, – three apiece – and it was looking as if the game was headed for a red card fest.

One of the yellow cards was shown to legendary Brazilian goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni. The Sao Paulo captain had protested, too vigorously to the referee’s liking, an incident where Tigre’s Lucas Orban had elbowed Lucas Moura in the mouth. The PSG bound winger had been left bloodied as the referee let the game go on without cautioning the Argentine left back.

That though had not been the first time Lucas Moura had been left floored. He had, just minutes earlier been brought down on the touchline, again by Orban. He had also been the cause for a variety of free kicks as the Argentine club desperately tried to stop him from orchestrating Sao Paulo attacks. Ultimately, they failed, as it was he who opened the scoring in the 23rd minute. Ghosting in from the right wing, he latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the Tigre box to fire in with his left foot. Five minutes later, his perfectly timed, and weighted, through ball released Osvaldo who chipped the Tigre goalkeeper to double the lead.

This performance showed just why in the summer transfer window, there had been a bidding war between Manchester United and Paris Saint Germain for his services. It also showed why 35 million Euros was the sum PSG  paid to take him to Paris. This was his last game before joining the Parisian club in January and aptly, Rogerio Ceni handed him the armband so that he could be first to lift the trophy.

In the end, neither his performance nor Rogerio Ceni’s selfless gesture will be remembered. For long before then, controversy had already reigned supreme.

On the half time whistle, as the players walked off the pitch, a major brawl ensued that continued on for minutes.  (This half-time brawl would produce red cards for Sao Paulo’s Paolo Miranda and Tigre’s Gaston Diaz).

From then on, nothing is clear. Reports emerged of chaos. Tigre players, allegedly, attacked Sao Paulo players in the tunnel, even storming into their dressing room.  Security was then called who then, allegedly, used excessive force on the Tigre players. Police were also called in to calm the now hectic situation. But then, allegedly, police batons struck faces and backs of Tigre players and officials alike. There were even reports of guns being brandished. One gun was, allegedly, aimed at the chest of Tigre goalkeeper Damien Albil.

All this is but just speculation – for now. No concrete proof is yet to shed light as to what really happened. But as the  break came to an end, Sao Paulo stepped back onto the pitch. Tigre did not.

Tigre complained to the referee that they could not come out as it was not safe for them.  They also complained of how even before the game, they had been treated badly;  forced to train at a ground four hours away from their hotel, had stones thrown at their bus on arrival and also prevented from warming up on the Morumbi turf.

Eventually, the referee took a decision, issuing an ultimatum to Tigre. The game was abandoned, and CONMEBOL, South America’s football governing body, awarded the trophy to Sao Paulo.

Tigre responded via their official twitter page. They proclaimed that they had become unwilling protagonists in one of the most shameful chapters in Brazilian football. They stated that they had refused to come out because for them, they had come for a game of football, not war.

And that, once more, raises  the recurring question as to the violence that still forms a huge part of South American football. It seems the game in South America still can’t dissociate  its two extremes – beauty and violence. The goals scored in the final were amazing, and a quick search on youtube for them will prove this.

But also, the violent incidents unearthed another set of youtube videos on the controversies that have marred South American continental finals. Stretching as far as 1971, these events were even present at last year’s Copa Libertadores (South America’s Champions League) final. Adding onto that, the pictures that emerged as TV cameras went into the dressing rooms showed sorry sights of blood on doors and walls.

It is something that needs to be dealt with. On the short term, Tigre have launched a complaint with the Brazilian local police. Amidst a barrage of words thrown by each set of club officials and players towards the other side, police say that their is some truth behind both side’s claims.

CONMEBOL  themselves have launched an investigation. In a case of this gravitas, it seems both sides should receive punishment as both were involved in some way or another in blemishing the game’s name. Opinion in South America though seems to suggest that the governing body has a history of leniency, and that that is not bound to change anytime soon.

If that is the case, then the dust from the Copa Sudamericana 2012 Final is not going to settle down anytime soon. Then again, in South American football, violence both on and off the pitch, has always been the norm.

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