RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Tensions remained high Friday in Rio de Janeiro on the eve of the Copa Libertadores soccer final, following a brawl between fan clubs and a fierce police response on the Copacabana beach the previous day.
The incident marred the excitement ahead of the game between Brazil’s Fluminense and Argentina’s Boca Juniors, due on Saturday at Rio de Janeiro’s famed Maracana stadium.
A mob swept across Copacabana beach, sending hundreds of others stampeding away from the commotion, some clutching caipirinhas and hastily-gathered clothes.
Conmebol, the continental governing body of soccer in South America, met Friday with directors of the Brazilian Football Confederation, the Argentine Football Association, Fluminense and Boca Juniors to discuss security.
The meeting was called after Thursday’s brawl on Copacabana that saw nine arrested across the city’s affluent southern zone, police said.
Brazil’s police have drawn criticism for their response as images posted on social media by Argentine’s Diario Olé outlet showed one officer pointing his gun at supporters on the beach and others using batons against Boca fans.
It wasn’t immediately clear if live ammunition was involved but no fans were reported shot by police.
“Nothing justifies a repression as brutal as that seen in Copacabana, where there were even children,” Argentina’s Ambassador to Brazil Daniel Scioli said Thursday evening on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“You mistreated us,” read the Portuguese headline on the Argentine daily’s Diario Olé front page on Friday, plastered across what appeared to be a screenshot from the video showing police in military gear, pointing their guns.
Fans of Boca had gathered in the Buenos Aires bar on Copacabana, drinking and singing all day Thursday, said Facundo Barbero, a 39-year-old Argentine who has been living in Rio for five years and who was among the fans at the bar.
“Fluminense fans came to take photos with the Argentines and the atmosphere was relaxed until 19:30 when the police arrived, hitting people with batons, firing shots and using tear gas,” Barbero said.
Conmebol hopes to avoid holding the final without spectators, which would tarnish the image of the tournament, Globo news outlet reported.
“It is essential to take extreme precaution,” Conmebol said in a statement after Friday’s meeting and urged fans of Boca Juniors and Fluminense “to share together the moments of joy and celebration that soccer gives us.”
Rio’s military police will deploy 2,200 officers ahead of the match, it said in a video on Instagram. A fan zone has been erected on Copacabana, and there will also be giant screens in Cinelandia Square in the city center and in the Sambodrome — famed for the carnival parades.