Riots, mayhem threaten Copa America event, Passarella

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Riots, mayhem threaten Copa America event, Passarella

BUENOS AIRES - The mayhem that swept River Plate’s Monumental stadium following the famed team’s relegation to the second division also threatens the future of club president Daniel Passarella and the upcoming Copa America.

Police on Monday said 89 people were injured and 55 detained in riots sparked by rampaging fans, humiliated by the club’s demotion, despite a history that includes 33 league titles - more than any other Argentine club.

A prosecutor has ordered the stadium to be closed until the turnstiles can be inspected. He has suggested the legal capacity of 40,000 was exceeded by 12,000. The stadium, which also serves as Argentina’s national stadium, is set to hold the final match of the Copa America on July 24.

Argentina is the host nation for the Copa America - the South American national team championship - with play starting Friday in La Plata, 60 kilometers (35 miles) southeast of Buenos Aires. Argentina and Brazil are the favorites to meet in the final, which could again test security at the aging stadium.

Prosecutor Gustavo Galante said the closure could last for a month but also hinted it might take only a week to gather evidence.

“We are going to look for evidence of what happened,’’ Galante told The Associated Press. “The stadium will remain closed until this is completed and all the evidence is in hand.’’

Conmebol, the governing body of South American football, insisted the match is on.

“Fans can rest easily,’’ spokesman Nestor Benitez told The AP. “The Copa America final will be played at River Plate’s stadium.’’

Ernesto Cherquis Bialo, a spokesman for the Copa America and the Argentine Football Association, said it was too early to know if the final would be moved. He also said AFA’s executive committee would meet Thursday and decide on sanctions against River Plate.

Sunday’s rioting was set off after River Plate drew 1-1 with Belgrano in the second leg of a relegation playoff, which followed a 2-0 loss four days earlier. That match was suspended for 20 minutes when River Plate fans ripped through a fence and raced across the field to taunt their own players.

The chaotic scenes Sunday pitted River Plate hooligans known as “Los Borrachos del Tablon’’ - the Drunks in the Stands - against a force of 2,200 police, the largest to ever patrol an Argentine football match.

Enraged fans were sprayed with high-power water hoses - inside and outside the stadium - with police using tear gas, rubber bullets and hand-to-hand combat in a futile attempt to control the rioting.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, said Monday there was “no reason’’ to play without fans.

“These are not River fans, these are 300 vandals,’’ Fernandez told Telefe television. “They need to be identified, detained and never allowed back into the stadium.’’

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