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Boca Considers Replacing Mythic Stadium

September 27, 2006

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ It’s nicknamed ``The Chocolate Box″ for its small, squarish design _ a mythic stadium that Boca Juniors inaugurated 66 years ago and still intimidates many rival teams.

Now officials say they must seriously consider a bigger replacement for ``La Bombonera.″

The stadium that has been home to a record 16 major international titles, has a capacity of 55,000. Yet with a growing fan base along and an increasing demand for tickets, it is becoming a tighter squeeze in the days of modern mega-stadiums.

The next two years will be important, and club officials emphasize nothing has been decided with regard to a new 60,000-70,000 capacity building.

``With a new stadium ... the club would have more revenue,″ Boca vice president Pedro Pompilio told one television station Monday.

Easily one of South America’s most popular clubs, Boca could use more room to accommodate a growing legion of fans.

Winning the Recopa crown _ South America’s Super Cup _ earlier this month over reigning Club World Champion Sao Paulo only added to Boca’s international appeal, which includes fans as far off as Asia.

But with new regulations expected in 2008 likely to include a requirement for all-seat stadiums, ``La Bombonera″ would be reduced to a capacity of 30,000. Surrounded by homes and other nearby buildings, an expansion is not feasible.

Opened in May 1940 in the picturesque La Boca neighborhood near the Buenos Aires waterfront, close to the muddy River Plate, the arena is formally named for Alberto J. Armando, a former club president.

But most only know its nickname and fearsome reputation as one of the most daunting and boisterous stadiums in Latin America.

It is a major tourist attraction, situated in a neighborhood of brightly colored wooden-shingled homes _ many painted Boca blue and yellow. The stadium’s boxy design makes for a unique sporting spectacle.

The stadium’s atmosphere, history and home-field advantage make it difficult for some to consider leaving.

``I would never want to leave ‘La Bombonera’ because this is the perfect stadium for soccer,″ Pompilio said. ``But if Boca today should consider a stadium seating 60,000 or 70,000 people, they will fill the stands because there is just an incredible number of fans who want to attend the games.″

Modern-day stadiums are bigger with more amenities, and Boca officials said two possible locales already have been identified in the Argentine capital.

Still, Pompilio said, any decision would have to be vetted by paying ticket members _ called ``associates″ _ perhaps in a referendum late in 2007. But even mentioning the issue draws criticism.

Taxi driver Jorge Scalise, like many Boca fans, adamantly opposes moving.

``It would be a real shame,″ Scalise said. ``This is a place where Boca has won many championships titles. But, well, if they have to move, I will follow them anywhere.″

Some fans at crosstown rival River Plate _ which has won a record 32 Argentine league titles, 10 more than Boca _ said they would gladly say good riddance to ``La Bombonera.″

They play in Monumental Stadium, a 60,000-capacity arena built for the 1978 World Cup won by Argentina.

``That would be great if River doesn’t have to play any more in THAT stadium,″ said River fan Ruben Moroni, not mentioning ``La Bombonera″ by name because of some stinging River losses there.

Jorge Zunino, an elderly Boca fan, said he hoped the talk would lead nowhere.

``Truth be told, that would be very painful to see Boca pull out. I’ve been going to ‘La Bombonera’ since I was 14 years old and have celebrated so many victories there,″ he said. ``It will be a sad day when the stadium is no more.″

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