Boca beat Libertad amid COVID-19 concerns as Copa Libertadores resumes

After a six-month pause, South America's Copa Libertadores is back. Yet, of necessity in times of the global pandemic, without fans in the stadium to create the atmosphere which is so much a part of the continent's football.

However, it is those on the pitch that are causing the main headlines. The Brazilian team of officials due to take charge of a game on Thursday (Racing of Argentina against Nacional of Uruguay) tested positive for COVID-19 and had to be replaced. And a couple of hours later a highly controversial match kicked off in Paraguay as Libertad played host to Argentine giants Boca Juniors, whose first game in six months provided plenty of prematch drama.

In the two weeks prior to the game, around 20 Boca players tested positive but it seemed earlier in the week that some of them would be able to play. The justification was that a handful of the positive players were in the late stages of the virus, with no apparent risk of contaminating others. Surprisingly, the Paraguayan health authorities were happy to let these players into the country; Libertad were not so pleased. They put out a statement expressing, in block capitals, their "total INDIGNATION, REPUDIATION AND ABSOLUTE WORRY" and they made it clear that they would play the game under protest and take legal measures afterwards.

Boca claimed they travelled to Paraguay on Wednesday evening with the entire delegation having tested negative, but Libertad were still not happy. They requested that Boca be tested again on arrival, with the Paraguayan club giving them choice of laboratory and offering to meet the costs.

It was only at the last minute that Boca were able to define which players would be making the trip. Coach Miguel Angel Russo, 64 years of age and a cancer survivor, ending up staying in Buenos Aires, while assistant Leandro Somoza took charge. Libertad have been in league action for two months, while the depleted Boca team had not played since March, but a pair of goals from Eduardo Salvio gave Boca a 2-0 win as Antonio Bareiro was sent off late on. Though it may not be the last we've heard about this game.

The fact that these matches are going ahead shows the desperation of the South American football authorities to restart the continent's premier cup competition. There are immense financial pressures. The continent's club game lives close to the edge in normal times, so an enforced six month stoppage has taken a huge toll.

Even so, the feeling that the action should restart is evidently not universal. Squads for the Libertadores usually contain 30 players. They were increased first to 40 and then to 50 -- an obvious measure to ensure that games can go ahead even if clubs suffer a coronavirus surge on the scale of that of Boca Juniors.

Marcelo Gallardo, the coach of River Plate, has refused to extend his squad beyond 29. "If there are massive outbreaks, it is because the pandemic is indicating that we should not be playing," he said in a news conference earlier this week.

Gallardo's team played their first game in six months on Thursday, away to Sao Paulo in Brazil -- one of the cities which has been hit hardest by the coronavirus. His team came away with a creditable 2-2 draw. Gallardo may have been pleased with the result, but was frustrated that his men scored all four goals - two of them at the wrong end.

But at least the unusual situation has given another Argentine coach a story to tell with a happy ending. Martin Brignani is in charge of Venezuelan side Estudiantes de Merida and, with the Venezuelan league still shut down, he went back to Argentina in May.

Transport links are still so limited in South America that he was unable to make it back for Wednesday's game at home to Alianza Lima of Peru and so he had to watch the action unfold on television in Mar del Plata at the other end of the continent and use his mobile phone to pass instructions. Though even that ran into problems as the team's assistant coach, former Venezuela international striker Jose Torrealba, tested positive for coronavirus and was forced to miss the game, meaning that Brignani had to keep in contact with his goalkeeping coach instead.

They clearly did something right. Alianza went 2-0 up, and appeared on the way to their first Libertadores win in 20 games, however Estudiantes made some changes and, with 15 minutes to go, on came striker Wilson Mena to score the equaliser and win a penalty which gave the Venezuelans a famous 3-2 triumph.