It took a lot of digging deep in Sunday’s match against a spirited and highly motivated Olimpo, but after four long years River Plate are finally able to call themselves champions of Argentina again. Thanks to a stellar performance from young gun Diego Buonanotte, Diego Simeone’s side claimed the club’s 33rd professional league title, beating the bahíenses 2-1 in El Monumental whilst Simeone’s former club, Estudiantes, could only draw with Colón. those results mean the championship race ends one round before the season does, but also leave the relegation battle going all the way down to the wire…
River dominated the opening exchanges against Olimpo, raining down attacks on their struggling opponents and forcing Olimpo goalkeeper José Ramírez into a string of fine saves throughout the opening period. Although Olimpo had had their chances, River were a little unfortunate to lead by only one goal after 45 minutes, Buonanotte finishing strongly from just outside the penalty box in the 16th minute after a half-cleared corner. There were more chances – most notably when Radamel Falcao García blazed inches over after the ball rebounded to him off the crossbar following a corner – but Olimpo hung on and trailed by only one at the break.
In the second half, Olimpo came out fired up, knowing that they had to win in order to save themselves from automatic relegation, and River, already forced back onto the counter at times in the first half, had to hold strong, looking a little shocked at first that Daniel Florit’s side, having taken 15 points from a possible 18 in their previous six matches, were coming at them so readily.
Olimpo got their reward for the spirit and adventure they showed away to one of the country’s biggest teams when Josemir Lujambio, so often their saviour this season, equalised twenty minutes into the second half. River’s fans, though, who haven’t always had the best of relationships with some of their players during this campaign, continued to roar their support from the packed stands, as the team carried on pressing forward. The players responded: Matías Ahumada was superb in the middle, Ariel Ortega pulled the strings just behind the front three and Juan Pablo Carrizo, admonished after signing for Lazio early on this season, did what was asked of him when Olimpo did breach the defence.
Radamel Falcao García drew some everyman sympathy after he collided with Ramírez whilst chasing a through ball and there was some light relief as those of us who know what it’s like to walk into the corner of a table were able to watch highly-trained sportsmen rolling around in agony after a clash of knees. Minutes later, Falcao was flagged very narrowly offside, but in the 33rd minute it was Buonanotte who sprung the visitors’ trap, running onto a through ball from the superb Ortega and finishing right-footed across the face of goal to send the home crowd into raptures.
Whilst this was all going on, Estudiantes were giving their all and absolutely battering Colón de Santa Fé in the Estadio Municipal de La Plata, but couldn’t find a way through the visitors’ defence. River hung on and attention switched to the closing minutes in La Plata. At the final whistle, Colón, who now go into the final weekend’s relegation head-to-head with Racing knowing a draw will be enough for safety, celebrating as if they’d won the championship. River, after a hiatus many of the country’s most domestically-successful fans will feel was far too long, finally have done. Manager Diego Simeone may still be a long way off finding his ideal side, but the loss in the superclásico and the spectacular capitulation to San Lorenzo in the Copa Libertadores will be forgiven and forgotten now the trophy drought is over.