Racing Club’s Emiliano Insúa battles for the ball with Boca Juniors’ Sebastián Villa during a league match last season. Marcelo Endelli (Getty Images)
Rafael Di Zeo, the legendary leader of Boca Juniors Barra Brava, will see his team back in a football stadium after almost six years. Banned from Argentine stadiums, including through a trial investigating him for instigating an internal war between Boca ultras that left two dead and six wounded by firearms in 2013, he will do so more than 13,500 kilometers from Buenos Aires. Boca Juniors meets Racing de Avellaneda this Friday in Abu Dhabi for a tournament invented for the occasion: the “International Super Cup” meets the two teams that defined the 2022 league at the last minute and that last Monday rivalry over the nearly 22-hour flight to the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Di Zeo, who according to local media managed to leave Argentina by taking a property belonging to his partner to court as a guarantee and who will have access to the stadium as the Emirates have no agreement with Argentina to ban it, will be one of the few Argentines able to see the long-awaited rematch, which drew criticism against the Argentine Football Association (AFA).
Argentina is the first South American country to board the train bringing the most attractive football in the world to the countries of the Persian Gulf. Last June, according to a statement released at the time, the AFA signed a four-year contract with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council for “the staging of various Argentine football sporting events”. The first was a friendly between Lionel Messi’s team and the United Arab Emirates team: on November 16, four days before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, where they won the world title, Argentina beat their big star Mohammed 0-5 am zayed stadium.
Boca Juniors players train at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, on January 19, 2023. SATISH KUMAR (Portal)
Almost a week after the World Cup, on December 29, the AFA confirmed that Boca and Racing would play a tournament on the same pitch. Following the progression of the Spanish and Italian Super Cups set in Saudi Arabia this week, the International Super Cup is a tournament created for the occasion.
Argentina has been testing different competition formats in its professional divisions for years. The original Super Cup, held since 2012 and pitting the champions of the Professional League against the champions of the Argentine Cup, was one of the few more or less stable variables. This year it should be played by Patronato, a modest team that won the cup last October while being relegated to the second division, and Boca, who won the league from Racing in a final game, both with the classic rivals of the other crossed.
Boca had entered the last game of the league in the lead, just a point behind Racing. The tournament was decided at the last minute: Boca won the match against Independiente de Avellaneda up to the 81st minute when it was a tie and finally lifted the trophy because River beat Plate Racing and stopped a penalty in the last minute.
Boca had also won the League Cup, a tournament played for the third time last year and decided in May. With Boca being the winner of their two new tournaments, the AFA decided to face the second of the two in a new tournament, eventually dubbed the Champions Trophy. Racing played a semi-final against Tigre, who had lost the May final with Boca, and returned almost two weeks after the league was defined to face the blue and gold team. This time the Avellaneda team won in a painful game: they scored 2-1 in the 118th minute and the final whistle had to be brought forward because 11 players were sent off. Meanwhile, the board of trustees does not yet know whether it will play out its Super Cup.
Racing and Boca, who have not seen each other since, reunited on Monday as they shared a specially equipped flight to Abu Dhabi. According to the Olé newspaper, they decided to raffle their seats on the plane to avoid awkward crossings: Racing travels ahead and Boca travels behind.
The freshly wounded game, which aims to spearhead Argentina’s football exports to the Middle East, marks the return of domestic football after Argentina’s victory at the World Cup in Qatar. It will also be a return to reality for the AFA and its President Claudio Chiqui Tapia, who has spent a dream summer with the World Cup in his arms and without having to think about the constant chaos of the local calendar. Until this Friday.
Subscribe to the EL PAÍS America newsletter here and receive all the latest news from the region