River Plate relegated in Argentina after draw

Buenos Aires: Legendary club River Plate was relegated to the Argentine second division for the first time in its 110-year history, sparking street battles between police and fans just outside its Monumental stadium.

The drop came after a 1-1 draw with Belgrano in the second leg of a demotion playoff yesterday. Mariano Pavone scored in the sixth minute for River, and Guillermo Farre equalized in the 62nd.

Belgrano won the first leg 2-0 on Wednesday. The game was suspended for 20 minutes when River Plate hooligans raced onto the field to taunt its own players.

Officials also stopped yesterday`s match with about a minute to play, with police forced to turn fire hoses on River Plate fans who had begun to throw objects on the field.

As the fans were pounded with water, River Plate`s players huddled on the pitch, many in tears, including goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo.

Fearing violence, Argentine authorities deployed about 2,200 police -- reported to be the largest security operation for a football match -- to control the crowd of 50,000 at River Plate`s stadium.

Police used water cannons outside the stadium immediately after the match, hoping to disperse quickly. Fans who poured out of the stadium faced police with batons and shields at every exit, while attack dogs and helicopters were reportedly on standby.

The area outside the stadium, located in a leafy northern suburb, looked like a war zone with police battling hand to hand with hooligans. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas, and brought in mounted units to try to keep order.

Young, angry fans responded by throwing rocks at police, setting fire to rubbish bins and ripping down metal street barriers.

Smoke was also seen billowing from one end of the stadium, with a half dozen ambulances seen entering the area about 45 minutes after the match ended. One policeman has reportedly been injured.

Suggestions to play the match in an empty stadium were turned down by interior ministry officials after consulting with the Argentine Football Association and its president Julio Grondona.

River, which would have stayed up had it tied Belgrano on aggregate, had three or four chances in the first half but failed to convert. In the second, with the match level at 1-1, Pavone missed a penalty by shooting directly at goalkeeper Juan Carlos Olave.

Just before River led through Pavone`s goal, Belgrano looked to have scored but the goal was disallowed for offside. TV replays seemed to show it was a correct call.

Farre`s equalizer came from 12 meters (yards) after two River Plate defenders had failed to clear the ball.

The demotion is humiliating for a club that has won more league titles than any team -- 33 -- and is known affectionately as "The Millionaires." River can return to the top flight after only one season in the second division -- known as B Nacional -- by finishing in the top four to be promoted automatically or by through a playoff.

Relegation in Argentina is determined on results over the past three years, and River has been poor. Faced with debts estimated at USD 19 million, it has sold off much of its top talent to European clubs, hoping to balance the books.

Football-related violence is endemic in Argentina, fallout from lax security, decrepit stadiums and hooligan groups that present a menace at almost every match.

The nonprofit group "Let`s Save Football" says 287 people have been killed in football-related violence dating from 1924, and 14 have died in the last 16 months.


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