One of the great clubs of South American football, River Plate was relegated on Sunday from the Argentine first division for the first time in their 110-year history triggering clashes between enraged fans and the police that left dozens hospitalized and arrested.
River needed to win by two clear goals to escape dropping to the country's B league. But the team managed only a 1-1 draw against Belgrano de Cordoba.
The match, held in River's Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, had to be abandoned in the final minute, amid chaotic scenes. Police fired water cannon up into the stands, following a pitch invasion by furious River fans.
Police had to escort players from both teams from the field, as home supporters hurled a barrage of objects over the perimeter fence. And outside the stadium hundreds of fans went on a furious rampage fighting riot police and attacking the neighbourhood.
Once the riots stopped, official sources confirmed that 72 people had been hospitalized with various injuries, including a police officer who was taken to hospital in critical condition. Out of those 72 injured, 25 are police officials who were hurt outside of the stadium.
“We believe there are two officials in grave condition after being hit in the head with stones and other objects hurled at them” stated a primary police report.
Police officials also confirmed that 95 people had been arrested in the protests.
A thick plume of smoke could be seen coming out of one of the stadium’s wings, as Belgrano fans remained inside, waiting for the River hooligans to clear the area.
Police officials reported that several fights broke among River Plate fans, while others attacked the police. Many damages to the stadium and its surroundings were reported.
The first incidents were reported while the game was still being played, as several River Plate fans attempted entering the field. Firemen began spraying the rioters with their fire hoses, which caused them to relegate and go back to their seats.
Outside the stadium, angry fans set several vehicles on fire, as they hurled firecrackers and stones to policemen and damaged property along two main avenues of Buenos Aires residential Nuñez neighbourhood.
More than 2,000 police had been deployed before the game in an unparalleled security operation for a club game.
The game itself was a fiercely fought contest. River had gone 1-0 up within the first five minutes. But they saw their lead slip in the second half, after a well-taken Belgrano goal. Then the player, who had scored River's goal, Mariano Pavone, had a penalty saved, to the stunned reaction of more than 50,000 home fans.
And that effectively sealed their fate. By the end of the game, some of their players were in tears.
River, which has won more domestic titles than any other club, was one of only three never to have dropped out of the first division.
Many commentators have described it as a drop into the abyss. Argentina's press reacted to the result with disbelief.
The national daily, Clarin, wrote: No-one, absolutely no-one, will be able to forget this day. It said while Belgrano had been the executioner, they did not bear most of the responsibility for River's fate.
And it added that even the poor refereeing... and the management errors that had helped bring the club to this point did not justify the incidents at the end of the game.
Incredible but real was the headline in the sports paper, Ole.
It flagged up the fact that River's descent has been presided over by one of its all-time greatest players - Daniel Passarella, the club's current president.
In recent weeks, River's fans have reacted angrily to a string of poor results, demanding his resignation. It has been a steep fall from grace for Passarella, the man who captained Argentina's World Cup winning squad in 1978. He was idolised by River's supporters when he played for club.
River's decline on the pitch has been mirrored by financial problems.
The club is currently carrying an estimated 19m dollar-debt, which have forced it to sell off several young stars - players like Javier Saviola - to European clubs.