River Plate fan starts 15-hour trek, instead of short drive
If Qatar’s bid to host the rescheduled Copa Libertadores final had been successful, River Plate fanatic Javier Maluf would have had a gentle 10-minute drive to see his heroes play.
Instead, on Saturday evening, he and his family will begin a 14,200-kilometre, 15-hour round trip dash to Madrid — and stay there for just 24 hours — as well as spend around $2,500 (2,200 euros) just to see his side face bitter local rivals Boca Juniors.
“It is worth it,” insisted Maluf. “It is worth it to go 24 hours to see a match.”
He will travel with wife, Gabriela Marchetto, son Nicolas and meet his London-based daughter Mariana in the Spanish capital.
The Malufs will be just a small part of an army of thousands of Argentinian fans expected to descend on Madrid this weekend.
“We are planning to leave tonight, arrive there about 7.30 in the morning.
“I am going to meet a friend of mine, who was my boss in Argentina, who is a River Plate fan.
“He travelled yesterday with his family, as well.
“We are going to have breakfast, we are going to exchange the tickets, have a rest, then go to the match.”
– Couldn’t sleep –
The second leg of the Copa Libertadores, the most prestigious prize in South American club football, has been switched to Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium following the violent scenes which marred the sides’ 2-2 first leg draw in Argentina last month.
After Boca’s bus was attacked with “pepper spray, sticks and stones”, by River fans on the way to the stadium Boca players were hospitalised as the biggest game in South American club football history descended into disgrace.
Maluf, 52, describes the violence as “very embarrassing”.
In the immediate aftermath, South American football federation CONMEBOL ruled the match would take place outside Argentina.
At one point, World Cup 2022 host Qatar’s Khalifa Stadium — just five kilometres from the Maluf home — seemed to be the most likely, if improbable, location for the rescheduled match.
Its state-owned airline, Qatar Airways, is the shirt sponsor of Boca Juniors, as well as recently announcing itself as the “official global airline partner” of CONMEBOL.
The Gulf emirate also enjoys increasingly warm relations with South American countries, including Argentina, and its national team will play in next year’s Copa America.
“It was like a fantasy, I was very excited,” said Maluf about the prospect of the teams playing in Doha, although he admitted concerns.
“I was worried initially that the match would be played here in Qatar.
“At that stage I think the country is not prepared to receive a big derby like this, it’s a huge event.”
– No ordinary fan –
The 52-year-old Maluf is no ordinary football fan.
In an upstairs bedroom in his Doha home, Maluf has a vast collection of football memorabilia, including some 800 shirts, many of them original players’ jerseys from high-profile games.
Among them is a Diego Maradona shirt worn by the legendary player when Argentina took on England at Wembley in 1980.
Also in his collection is 1947 River Plate shirt worn by great, Alfredo Di Stefano.
Pride of place though, says Maluf, is a blood-stained Mario Kempes shirt from Argentina’s 1978 World Cup finals win over France.
His oldest River Plate shirt dates back to 1931, and was worn by Carlos Peucelle, who played in the first ever World Cup a year earlier.
Somewhere among the collection, which also includes original World Cup footballs, is a Leo Messi Argentinian national jersey.
Maluf also spent a recent trip to Sweden seeking out an original yellow IFK Malmo shirt worn by Argentinian players in the 1958 World Cup, due to a kit clash.
In front of his wife, he warily admits, he can spend up to $3,000 (2,600 euros) on his “really nice collection”.
But there is one club’s shirt that is not in his collection.
“I don’t have any Boca Juniors,” he says.