Sep 29, 2009

Ranking the world's soccer meccas: No. 9, Estadio Alberto J. Armando (La Bombonera), Buenos Aires

For ranking methodology and other information about the series, see the original post. To read the about the No. 10-rated stadium, the San Siro in Milan, go here. To see all "soccer mecca" entries click here or on the "topics covered here" link below right.

9. Estadio Alberto J. Armando (La Bombonera), Buenos Aires
Open since: 1940 (renovated 1995-96)
Capacity: 57,395
Tenant(s): Boca Juniors
World Cup hosts: Never
Closest U.S. stadium comparison: Fenway Park, Boston.

Okay, so how can a place make this list if it never even hosted a single World Cup match? Because it's the Bombonera, that's why. The Estadio Alberto J. Armando (it's official name since 2000) is preceded by its quasi-mystical reputation. It is said to be the most intimidating place to play, anywhere. The curious shape that gives the grounds its name (a "flat" stand on one side of the pitch and three steep stands around the rest resembles a candy box, or bombonera in Spanish) only adds to its mystique and contributes to the raucous acoustics. The place quite literally sways back and forth when its crazed fans are in full frenzy. Attending a match at the Bombonera, preferably for a Boca Juniors vs. River Plate superclasico, is arguably a requirement for anybody wishing to call themselves a true fan of the beautiful game.

If this makes the stadium sound like a veritable temple to the sport, that's because it is. So why then isn't it higher up in these rankings? Indeed, why isn't it No. 1? Simple. For all its (numerous) charms, the Bombonera has hosted few matches of historical significance. Perhaps because one of the times it did, in 1969, the home side (in this case the Argentine national team) managed just a 2-2 draw with Peru in a vital World Cup qualifier that kept the albiceleste out of the 1970 World Cup. It was not used in the 1978 World Cup. Unfortunately, this dearth of historic activity keeps the grounds from becoming the mecca of the sport.

Which is not to say La Bombonera hasn't hosted some important, if not groundbreaking events in world soccer. It was here that a certain Diego Armando Maradona received his first cap for the Argentine national team, entering as a second-half substitute in a 1977 friendly against Hungary. (Maradona did not play his first professional game here, as is often assumed because of his affiliation with Boca Juniors, a club he did not actually join until 1981, when he was 21 years old. Previously he played with Argentinos Juniors). Juan Riquelme got his full international debut at La Bombonera in a 1997 World Cup qualifier against Colombia (which ended in a 1-1 draw). In 1968, Manchester United played here (and lost, to Estudiantes) in the first leg of the Intercontinental Cup. In 1977, Boca Juniors hosted Borussia Moenchengladbach of Germany (after Liverpool passed on the invite) in the same tournament. England played a friendly here in 1977 (and drew, 1-1. Hard to believe there were once "friendly" matches between England and Argentina).

Then there are the Superclasico matches, between River Plate and Boca Juniors, about which an entire book can be (and probably has been) written. The U.K.'s Observer famously listed attending one of these matches as the very first of 50 "sporting events you must do before you die." About 220 such matches have been played, not including friendlies. Many of these have been held at La Bombonera, including several epic encounters: In 1962, Boca beat River 1-0 to move into first place (they captured the title in the next round). In 1974, Carlos Garcia Cambon scored four goals in his Boca Juniors debut as the home side won 5-2 (Gambon remains the only player of either team to have scored four times in the Superclasico). In 1996, Claudio Caniggia scored three as Boca defeated River 4-1. In 2000, Boca won the return leg of the Copa Libertadores quarterfinal by 3-0 to advance to the semis 4-2 on aggregate. They would eventually win the tournament. Of course, River had their share of triumphs at La Bombonera as well, perhaps most famously in 1977 when they scored a last minute winner on their way to the Metropolitano championship.

Photo taken from


  1. for a stadium to be famous, or atleast used regularly, it has to have some significance, historical or other. Estadio Alberto probably isnt famous for the games it has hosted as you rightly pointed out.

  2. no it's not famous for the games it hosted (though I'm sure our readers in Argentina will disagree with that) but I don't think anybody would argue that the Bombonera isn't famous. Going there is at or close to the top of every soccer fan's to-do list.

  3. Funny to see Bombonera and San Siro at 9 and 10 as I am sure that those are the only 2 top 10 stadiums I've been to a game at. Been to camp nou too but did not see a match there.