I’ve been to hundreds of football matches in my life but without doubt the 2006 Copa Libertadores match between Corinthians and River Plate was one of the most unforgettable.
Kia Joorabchian’s Corinthians had Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez in their ranks and were favourites to overturn a 3-2 deficit from the first leg.
Instead they went down 3-1 amid sensational scenes at the Pacaembu stadium. Several irate fans invaded the pitch to remonstrate with Corinthians players and as frustration boiled over into fury police fired stun grenades to hold back angry fans.
I was in the press box and watched open-mouthed as fans hurtled down the terraces in waves to try and get on the pitch. It was like those scenes you saw on British TV in the 1970s from Liverpool or Manchester before crash barriers went up.
There were a dozen or so police with batons hitting everything that moved as fans on the other side of the fence tried desperately to tear it down and get on the pitch (see the footage below). It was incredible.
I realized there and then just how deep Corinthian’s obsession with winning the Libertadores is. I also realized that desperation can do more harm than good.
As one Corinthians fan said to me yesterday outside the Pacaembu, Imagine you have thousands of people looking at you as you do your job just waiting for you to screw up. You’d be too scared to do anything.
Corinthians play Emelec tonight in the second leg of their last 16 Libertadores tie. The score stands at 0-0.
I fancy Corinthians to squeeze into the quarter finals with their usual struggle. But if they don’t, their fans probably won’t lose it like they did in 2006. That game, given the participation of Tevez and former Corinthians manager Daniel Passarella, was very highly charged.
But if it all goes wrong there will be a lot of unhappy campers. And I wouldn’t rule anything out.