Things weren’t expected to be like this in Victoria. When Tigre won promotion via the playoff against Nueva Chicago last season, their triumph turned to tragedy when riots resulted in the death of one of their fans. But on Friday night, they beat Arsenal de Sarandí 2-0, with goals from man-of-the-match playmaker Martín Morel (pictured) and Sebastián Rusculleda, both in the second half, to end the match listening to chants from their fans calling for the championship.
For a couple of hours, until Lanús beat San Martín by the same scoreline to go back on top, Tigre – whose best ever season was a sixth-place finish back in 1955 – were second in the league. If Independiente drop any points at all on Sunday, they’ll be within two of the leaders (whether they be El Rojo or Lanús), and with the chance to overturn Lanús next weekend when they visit La Fortaleza. And it gets better, because also next weekend, fellow challengers Independiente have to visit River Plate, who’ve been tearing opponents apart for fun in El Monumental.
Of course, that last point is good news for Lanús too, because Tigre aren’t the only side dreaming of an improbable triumph. Lanús’s highest-ever finish was rather more recent than Tigre’s – they came second in the 2006 Clausura - and they will next year play in their first ever Copa Libertadores. With Independiente looking slightly shaky of late – losing away to Newell’s last week and alternating losses and wins for the last four rounds of matches – the Apertura could have a champion even less expected than the one it looked like getting a month ago.
Unexpected then because despite being a big club Independiente have been pretty useless for a couple of seasons, but a flying start, winning their first four matches, and the phenomenal and potentially record-breaking form of striker Germán Denis – so good he won his first cap for his country near the end of Tuesday night’s 2-0 away victory over Venezuela – catapulted them to the top and they’ve lead for much of the championship. With some tricky fixtures remaining, they need to get a result at El Monumental to keep their noses in front.
There’s also a more familiar face in what’s turning into a very tight race indeed, though. Until recently, Boca looked the most likely challengers to Independiente’s leadership, but when they lost twice in a week, first to Newell’s and then, worst of all, to River, they conceded the advantage. Tomorrow they take on Estudiantes in La Bombonera before travelling to Racing in two weeks for another clásico. A tricky run-in, though: they host Vélez the next week, then travel to Arsenal, and finish the season against the two unexpected championship contenders – at home to Lanús and away to Tigre on the final day. By a stroke of coincidence, those are precisely the two fixtures Independiente started the campaign with, following up a nail-biting 5-3 win over the granate with a comfortable 3-0 away win over a Tigre side who, at that point, no-one was expecting anything from.
Following those two Independiente wins, those who pored over fixture lists with rather more intensity than me might have remarked that two of the big clubs had such a mirror of each other’s fixtures. Had they suggested all four clubs involved in that coincidence would be within a couple of points of each other at the top when the season entered its final stretch, they’d have deserved to be locked up. And yet if Boca win tomorrow and Independiente don’t, two points will separate first from fourth.
One last coincidence: Gimnasia La Plata lost to Tigre on the first weekend, and will visit Lanús on the last. Now who’d have thought that would look like mattering so much?
When I get back to my own computer, I’ll be adding a league table to the site, but for now, Olé have one that’s updated within half an hour or so of the end of each match (the columns are: points; played; won; draw; lost; scored; conceded; Promedio percentage). And here’s their list of the complete fixtures, with scores for that that have been played already filled in.
Photo stolen from ole.clarin.com