Argentine soccer fans really live and die with the fortunes of their soccer teams.
There's no doubt about it after fans rioted when historic soccer team River Plate was relegated to the Argentine second division for the first time in its 110-year existence Sunday, leaving dozens injured inside and outside Monumental Stadium.
The relegation came after a 1-1 draw with Belgrano in the second leg — Belgrano won the first 2-0 — of a demotion playoff. Mariano Pavone scored in the sixth minute for River, and Guillermo Farre tied it in 62nd.
Violence broke out a minute before the match was over. Angry fans pelted players with objects from the stands, and police responded with high-powered fire hoses with some fans climbing fences topped with razor wire.
As fans were pounded with jets of water, River Plate's players huddled on the pitch, many in tears, including goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo.
The mayhem quickly spread outside River's 50,000-seat stadium. Alberto Crescenti, head of emergency medical services, said at least 55 people had been injured.
Nilda Garre, the minister for security, said 35 police officers were injured.
"Fortunately, none have their lives at risk," the Argentine news agency DyN reported her saying.
Police used water cannons outside the stadium immediately after the match, hoping to disperse fans quickly. Fans who poured out of the stadium faced police with batons and shields at every exit, while attack dogs were ready and helicopters hovered over the stadium.
The area outside the stadium, located in the leafy northern suburb of Nuñez, looked like a war zone with police battling hand to hand with River Plate hooligans, who are known by the colorful nickname "Los Borrachos del Tablón" — the Drunks in the Stands.
Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas, and brought in mounted units to try to keep order.
Young, angry fans responded by throwing rocks at police, setting fire to rubbish bins and vehicles, and ripping down metal street barriers. Smoke also billowed from one end of the stadium with reports that concession areas and other parts of the stadium had been set on fire.
Fans also ripped up stadium seats and used them as weapons in fights.
Half a dozen ambulances entered the stadium area about 45 minutes after the match ended, with live television coverage showing medics working on the injured while street fights erupted just a few feet away.
As the troublemakers were driven away from the stadium, there were reports of stores and shops being broken into on one of Buenos Aires' most famous thoroughfares — Avenida Del Libertador.
Fearing this kind of violence, Argentine authorities deployed about 2,200 police — reported to be the largest security operation for a soccer match — to control the crowd.
Suggestions to play the match in an empty stadium were turned down by interior ministry officials after consulting with the Argentine Football Association and its president Julio Grondona.
The violence was predicted. On Wednesday, the first leg in Córboda was stopped for 20 minutes early in the second half after River Plate hooligans ripped through a fence and raced across the field taunting and pushing River Plate players.
The ugly scenes, seen worldwide, came just days before Argentina hosted the Copa America — the continental championship for national teams — with the first match on Friday in La Plata, about 35 miles southeast of Buenos Aires.
River Plate's stadium is scheduled to host the final July 24, but that fixture is in doubt. Buenos Aires prosecutor Gustavo Galante said after the match he was moving to close the stadium for 30 days to investigate how many fans were allowed to enter the aging facility.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.