Knowing that River Plate had qualified for it by winning the Copa Libertadores, I coincided my return to Japan with the FIFA Club World Cup. This was a very rare opportunity since the last time River Plate played something similar was 19 years before in 1996. This year, as an added bonus, was the possibility of playing the final game against FC Barcelona, with perhaps the best collection of players in the history of club teams.
Buying tickets was not easy. I went online the first second they were made available, but the website collapsed due to high traffic. I tried for hours until I was finally able to reach the payment screen before realizing that they didn’t accept foreign credit cards. For a long while (until a second wave of tickets were available a month later) I thought my dream of attending these games would not materialize. Things were not easier when I tried again during the second round of sales a month later. The website collapsed again but I kept refreshing the page for 5 hours before finally buying tickets for the semifinal and final games.
The semifinal match took place in Osaka on December 16 against the Japanese team of Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Since I was already living in Osaka at the time, going to the match was very easy. I noticed the large amount of River fans the days before the match. They even took over the Dotonbori area one night, covering it with red and white flags and singing songs for hours.
The match was nerve-wracking as River Plate played badly and didn’t score until the 72nd minute, but that goal was enough to secure passage to the final against FC Barcelona. The truth is that I never got very excited about this semi-final match, but as the final match was approaching, I started to realize the magnitude of what I was about to witness.
I arrived in Tokyo the night before the final, and stayed in the same hostel I stayed earlier in the year. Once again I saw lots of River Plate fans everywhere on the streets. It was very easy to spot them since they always wore the team’s attire. It was hard to believe how many of them flew all the way from Argentina and to an expensive country just to support their team. It was estimated that there were 20,000 of them.
The following day I made my trip to Yokohama by train. The stadium was very impressive. The seats I got were category 3 (mid-level), with decent views of the pitch but a little too far away. The whole section to my left was covered in red and white colors. I never liked mingling too much with River Plate supporters, as I find their behavior very brash and juvenile at times. When going to matches in Argentina I had no choice but to be among them, but here I was able to find a quiet last row with some mellow neutral fans in front of me. Unless I’m attending a match with friends, I like to experience things by myself.
It was my first time seeing many of the River Plate players in person. It was also very impressive to see the attack of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez. Despite that, River Plate did pretty well for the first 30 minutes, matching Barcelona’s intensity. Then Messi’s goal came, and everything collapsed from there. The final result was 3-0. It was expected though. Since winning the Copa Libertadores half a year ago, River Plate had been very mediocre in the Argentine league, and here they were playing the best team in the world. I always knew a miracle would have to happen for my team to win.