Boca kids pushed to the limit as Libertadores brawl continues to haunt Argentine giants

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Next time you hear a Premier League, La Liga or Serie A footballer complain about their punishing fixture schedule, spare a thought for Boca Juniors' youngsters.

A scratch side of teenage rookies, most of whom had never even featured at first-team level prior to this past weekend, were forced to play three games in just four days thanks to the senior squad's violent antics in the Copa Libertadores and a bizarre subsequent mix-up in the boardroom.

They nevertheless fought through the exhaustion to do their club proud, but the bad blood caused by the events of the past week, both in Brazil and back in Argentina, threaten to cause a new schism in a nation which is no stranger to institutional chaos.

The mass forced absence of Boca's entire first team following their elimination from the Copa at the hands of Atletico Mineiro, and the brutal clash with security staff and Brazilian Military Police in the bowels of the Mineirao that followed, had nothing to do with any punishment handed down for the scrap, which included the now-infamous image of ex-Manchester United and Argentina star Marcos Rojo brandishing a fire extinguisher as the tear gas flowed.

Rather, Boca were (justifiably) judged to have burst their Covid-19 bubble during an odyssey which included an overnight stay outside a Belo Horizonte police station as Rojo and seven other members of the delegation identified as aggressors gave their statements to authorities.

The Argentine Health Ministry ruled as a result that the whole delegation would have to spend seven days in isolation upon returning to Buenos Aires, an effective suspension for their two upcoming league matches against Banfield and San Lorenzo.

That judgement did not go down well at the Bombonera.

After trying every manoeuvre they could imagine to avoid isolation, including the rather fantastical proposition that they might put together their own sanitary corridor, Boca then took the bold step of releasing an official statement claiming that Liga Profesional de Futbol (LPF) president Marcelo Tinelli had assured them their first team would be able to take the field against Banfield and doubled down by picking a first-choice reserve side 24 hours prior to that clash.

Tinelli, though, the former San Lorenzo president and the king of trashy prime-time television with his Showmatch program, was having none of it.

After categorically denying on Twitter that he had sanctioned such a decision, a second petition from Boca asking again for permission to play their starters provoked an exasperated reaction from the TV presenter.

“What a day we've had with Boquita,” he joked to his Showmatch viewers. “Enough of Boca, they're breaking my balls!”

While Xeneize legend and current vice-president Juan Roman Riquelme embarked on a fierce war of words with the media mogul – telling Radio 10 : “The Liga had every chance to tackle this issue in the best way, it wouldn't have been any problem for them to let us play with our first-teamers... they should have shown solidarity” - Boca's kids were heading into the game of their lives on Saturday, just one day after downing their Banfield second-string counterparts 3-1.

Reserve coach Sebastian Battaglia remained in charge for the first-team clash, and led a weary side with five teenagers on the pitch and 10 of the players who had started the previous afternoon to a laudable goalless draw.

On Tuesday, however, after yet another letter to the LPF asking for a day's postponement fell on deaf ears, San Lorenzo's class and experience proved too strong at the Bombonera.

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With 41-year-old Sebastian Torrico – 24 years the senior of promising Boca left-back Valentin Barco – between the posts and boasting twin Paraguay international pair Oscar and Angel Romero, the visitors eased to a 2-0 victory, leaving the Xeneize without a win in three league outings so far this season.

The mini-marathon of games has proved a baptism of fire for the club's youth team, similar to the clashes a depleted River had to face back in May with half of their squad downed due to Covid which forced them to field Enzo Perez in goal for a key Libertadores clash.

Barco in particular, nicknamed El Colorado (Ginger) for his shock of red hair, and forward Vicente Taborda, 20, stood out as real talents and should feature on a far more regular basis before this current campaign ends in December, but all of the untested youngsters did their club proud while their more illustrious colleagues could only watch on their TV sets.

"It was an extraordinary situation," Battaglia beamed to  ESPN  after the defeat. "The kids had to come out and face these two games. My personal feeling with the kids is very good, they had the chance to show themselves."

Having already irritated CONMEBOL with their brawling and subsequent accusations of VAR wrongdoing in both games against Atletico Mineiro, Boca now face an equally frosty atmosphere on the home front.

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Relations with Tinelli have all but collapsed this past week and, with Argentine FA president Claudio Tapia (who backed Boca in their gripes against the South American governing body) reportedly close to losing his job amid claims of irregularities in last year's virtual elections, they risk finding another less than friendly figure in that key role – even, in what would be a nightmare scenario, Tinelli himself, who is an outside bet for the post.

All in all, the situation looks bleak for a club which is still reeling from losing both captain and idol Carlos Tevez and their Libertadores hopes.

Riquelme and his ally, Xeneize president Jorge Amor Ameal, rode into the Bombonera on a wave of enthusiasm less than two years ago – but if the defeats keep coming on and off the pitch, both Boca's stars and their under-fire board will have to fight for their lives.