Libertadores match abandoned due to crowd riot

May 5, 2006

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 4 (Reuters) - Rioting fans forced the Libertadores Cup match between Brazilian champions Corinthians and Argentina's River Plate to be abandoned on Thursday.

Television pictures showed dozens of furious Corinthians fans breaking open a gate and attempting to invade the pitch at Sao Paulo's Pacaembu stadium after their team went 3-1 behind in the 83rd minute of the third round, second leg match.

The trouble began as the fans flocked out of the stadium following the goal that effectively dumped them out of the competition, South America's equivalent of the Champions League.

Around 20 truncheon-wielding riot police held the fans back while referee Carlos Chandia led the teams quickly off.

A police spokesman said six people had been injured and were being treated in hospital, though it was not clear what their injuries were.

The spokesman said there were also acts of vandalism outside the stadium, where fans throw stones at passing cars.

The riot lasted inside the stadium for around 10 minutes before police, who were vastly outnumbered and at one stage seemed to be trapped between the fans and the fence, brought the situation under control.

At least two Corinthians supporters got on to the pitch by scaling the fence and were dragged away by police.

River had won the first leg in Buenos Aires 3-2 and will almost certainly by awarded the second leg.

Police said the small contingent of River fans would be kept in the stadium until the Corinthians supporters had left and would then be escorted away from the area.

River's team were also kept in the stadium until the fans had cleared, they said.

The Corinthians fans appeared to be angry with their own team's shortcomings.

Corinthians supporters are notoriously fickle and have a long history of turning against their team.

In 1997, a group of supporters blocked a highway to ambush the team bus as it returned to Sao Paulo from an away match at Santos. Players had to be rescued by police after the fans attacked the bus with sticks and stones.

In 2000, around 50 fans belonging to the feared "Gavioes da Fiel" (Hawks of the Faithful) invaded the club's headquarters and protested noisily outside the changing room where the players were having a team talk.

Striker Edilson was attacked when he attempted to reach his car and needed protection from club security men. He subsequently left and joined Flamengo.

Angry fans have run on to the pitch several times in the past and often show displeasure by turning their backs to the pitch.

Corinthians have spent millions of dollars on new players since signing a partnership deal with London-based Media Sports Investments (MSI) at the end of 2004.

The deal instantly turned them into the richest club in Brazil but also raised expectations even further amongst their huge army of fans.

Corinthians have employed five coaches since signing the deal.

They won the Brazilian championship in December but coach Antonio Lopes resigned there months later, already under pressure after a difficult start to the 2006 season.

Corinthians had been expected to easily beat an injury-hit River Plate team and went ahead before halftime with a goal from striker Nilmar.

But River, whose coach Daniel Passarella was one of those fired by Corinthians last year, hit back in the second half with a Coelho own goal and two from substitute Gonzalo Higuain.