To the last day!

Can we join in too? Solari celebrates his goal
Can we join in too? Solari celebrates his goal

The Argentine title race is closer than it’s ever been. Two years ago, Boca Juniors lost their last two matches to set up a playoff – the first ever – against Estudiantes which the La Plata side won. On Sunday this weekend, Boca drew away to Gimnasia La Plata, at the same time as Tigre were beating Central in an edge-of-the-seat five goal thriller in Rosario. Combined with San Lorenzo’s win at home to Independiente, we’re going into the final round with three sides level on 36 points – and Lanús only two behind. Now what happens if Boca, Tigre and San Lorenzo all draw, and Lanús win next week…?

Boca’s draw in La Plata ensures that Lanús are also still in with a chance going into the final weekend – had the Xeneize won, only Tigre and San Lorenzo would now be able to overhaul them. Carlos Ischia’s side was set out to win, but Gimnasia – who unlike two years ago don’t have any thoughts about losing to Boca in order to derail an Estudiantes title tilt – were determined not to lose in their effort to claim points towards the Promedio.

Setting out to counter-attack in front of their own fans, it was Gimnasia who had the first good chance of the match when Ignacio Piatti failed to take advantage of a poor pass from Lucas Viatri. The first half saw Boca dominate possession but, huffing and puffing, they failed to blow Gimnasia’s defence down. At half-time it was goalless, and over in Rosario, Tigre had regained parity.

In that match, Central had taken the lead early on after Milton Caraglio had  anticipated the flight of the ball better than anyone else in the area. By the eleventh minute, it was 2-0 thanks to Ezequiel González, who rounded off a lethal counter attack. After that, Tigre started to rediscover the fighting spirit that’s characterised them since their promotion to Primera A a season-and-a-half ago. Carlos Luna scored twice, the first a cool finish at the end of a good attacking move, the second four minutes before half time, a tap-in from a corner.

In La Plata, Boca’s game plan for the second half was thrown into chaos in the 64th minute, when Ignacio Piatti controlled a ball that had already gone out for a throw-in and Claudio Morel Rodríguez piled into him. Referee Javier Collado didn’t let the Paraguayan off, and Boca were reduced to ten men.

Thereafter Boca were forced to switch to a formation with just one man – Viatri – up front, and the worst news of their night came from Rosario with ten minutes left on the clock, as Leandro Lázzaro took advantage of a dreadful bit of defending from Central’s rearguard and stroked home the winner. Ten minutes previously, Diego Cagna had sent Lázzaro on to replace Martín Morel, whose goals have been so important for Tigre this season. There’s an example of a gamble paying off.

Later on Sunday evening, San Lorenzo announced their intentions to go for the title next weekend, as well, by taking on Independiente in the weekend’s only clásico, and spanking them 4-1. Los Santos were 3-0 up and in complete control by half time. Two goals in as many minutes from Pablo Barrientos and Santiago Solari put the hosts on their way after around 20 minutes, shortly before Leonel Ríos was sent off for Independiente, and Gastón Aguirre added the third in the 41st. In the second half, Barrientos got a second for himself before Lionel Núñez got one back for El Rojo. It was already game over by that point though, even with a quarter of a match remaining.

One round is left now. Four teams are still in the race. Of those, one have never won the title before in their history (and were promoted 18 months ago) and another won their own first ever title twelve months ago. Who says the only interesting leagues are in Europe?

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13 thoughts on “To the last day!

  1. I’m fascinated to know how they’re going to programme the final week.

    The only two ‘dead rubbers’ are Estudiates-River and Independiente-Arsenal, they could get these out of the way on Friday.

    I think Lanus will be asked to play on the Saturday, because they surely can’t have *four* massive matches in Greater Bs As at the same time on Sunday night.

    I think the team with the easiest fixture is Tigre. If Lanus are sitting on top with 37, Banfield’s fans won’t want their players pulling it out to stop Tigre overhauling them.

    Colon have a promedio to play for, and Argentinos are always tough on their own ground, despite San Lorenzo’s amazing turnround in form.

    I fancied Lanus right up until I heard about Lazzaro’s goal while watching the GELP-Boca match. Now, I have a funny feeling all these desempates won’t be needed. Tigre will surely win, and I’m not so sure about the other two…

  2. Estudiantes vs. River isn’t quite a dead-rubber, Matthew. Estudiantes need to win that (they will do, obviously) in order to ensure that, should Tigre win the title, they (Estudiantes) will still be in with a shot of qualifying for the Copa Libertadores – if they win and San Lorenzo lose, both sides will be level in that table, and another playoff will be needed.

    It’s such a wonderfully simple system, isn’t it?

  3. I still think we should have long 38-week tournaments with relegations decided on total points THAT season and the top four or five teams going to the Libertadores and the following 5 or 6 to the Sudamericana (I don’t know -or care- how many Argentine teams apart from the invited Boca and River qualify each year for this ridiculous cup competition).

    That gives you one champion, another 8 or 9 or 10 teams qualifying for the continental cups -plus a few other teams fighting for it until the very end of the tournament and the rest looking to avoid the drop and EVERY TEAM (not just 3 or 4) playing for something until the end.

    Just like it is in Brazil (where they had an incredibly heart-breaking final round of the season -with all the 10 matches being played at the same time-). They decided the title (Sao Paulo), the three teams going to the Libertadores, the teams qualifying for the Sudamericana (Internacional got a ticket by winning the cup this year and Sport got in as winners of the Copa do Brasil -something like the FA Cup or the Copa del Rey-). That left the other teams from 5th to 14th getting in the Sudamericana, 2 more teams missing out on it but saving themselves from the drop (one of them by 1 point, the other on goal difference) and then the four relegated teams (two of which were only known today -one of them being Rio de Janeiro’s giant: Vasco da Gama).

  4. That said…I’ve got some info from Olé on the tie-breaking system and the many possibilities:

    Two teams tied on points:

    A final match to be played on neutral ground on Wednesday, 17 December. In case of a draw, extra-time will follow and if they are still tied a penalty-kicks shoot-out to decide the champion.

    Three teams tied on points: Many ways of ending the season with three teams tied at the top.

    San Lorenzo, Boca and Tigre all winning in the final round.

    Or…all of them getting draws and Lanús losing.

    Or…all of them losing and Lanús losing too.

    Or…two of them getting only one point, the other one losing and Lanús winning.

    How do they decide the title if there are three teams tied at the top?

    Each team play each other once on neutral ground.

    Possible dates are: Wednesday 17; Saturday 20 and Tuesday 23.

    The order of play will be determined by a draw (in which we know for a fact that will have as a result a Boca v. San Lorenzo fixture in the latest possible date).

    This triple tie never happened in the history of the short tournaments. The only precedent was the 1968 Nacional. River, Racing and Velez (the eventual champion) finished with the same number of points and had to decide with three additional matches.

    If after that three-way tie-breaker two or more teams are equal on points and goal-difference and goals scored, the decisive factor would be the results between them during the Apertura.

    Tigre would have the advantage over both, San Lorenzo and Boca as they defeated both 1-0 and 3-2 respectively.

    Boca would have the advantage over San Lorenzo after they 1-0 win at La Bombonera in round 13.

    Four teams tied at the top:

    If Boca, San Lorenzo and Tigre all draw in the final round and Lanús win, they will all finish with 37 points and will have to face each other to decide the winner.

    The dates would be the same as if it was a three-way tie but there would be 2 matches each day (Wednesday 17; Saturday 20 and Tuesday 23).

    In case they have to play a playoff, players will carry their yellow cards and/or their suspensions for red cards if they get those during the 19th round.

  5. Fantastic possibilities! I can’t wait to see how it plays out. My money is on Boca’s nerves getting to them again – even our bostero friends may admit they have not shown their famous huevos in the last few tournaments, including and ever since losing that playoff to Estudiantes.

  6. Not to rub it in, but I note that River are in sole possession of last place.

    Has any club gone from “first” to “worst” since they spilt the championships?

  7. In a word, Ursus, yes. Newell’s topped the ’92 Clausura and then finished bottom of the same year’s Apertura.

    Independiente have done it the other way round – bottom of the 2002 Clausura, they then won the 2002 Apertura.

  8. I wish AFA would get round to programming week 19… I have an invite to a party on Friday night, but if Racing or one of our relegation rivals are on, I’m may have to think of a good excuse not to go that doesn’t offend… ;-)

    And 23 Dec is our last day in work, and our boss is booking a meal out for the evening… if this thing goes to a 3 or 4 way play-off, there’ll be one empty seat in the restaurant…

    Just think, when this thing breaks up for two months I might be able to leave my computer and have a life back for a bit… only till mid February, mind :-)

  9. Imagine how I feel, Matthew! If I weren’t starting to get money for all this football-following, I’d be wondering why I let it take up so much of my time…

    Speaking of which thanks Seba for the breakdown of the playoff possibilities. I might copy & paste that comment (with full authorship credit to you of course!) into a proper post on the site later in the week because you’ve probably saved me a good half-hour to hour of researching and typing there!

  10. I remember that Newell’s side. They tried to win both Clausura and Copa Libertadores in 92. They won the Clausura, but weren’t official champions, as in those days they had to play off with the Apertura champs, River, who beat them.
    Then they got all the way to the final of the 92 Copa, and lost on pens to Sao Paulo. I’m pretty sure Gamboa missed the vital kick, I’m not 100% cause Copa matches weren’t on Screensport and it was just a three minute clip on Trans World Sport, between log rolling and the Japanese snowball fighting championships…
    Oh the glorious days of following Argentinian football before the internet! :-)

  11. Sam, you can use that comment with no need to credit me. After all…I took that information (and probably enhanced it a little bit) from Olé.

    What a team Newell’s had those days! And the “Mascherano” of that side was none-other than our manager Juan Manuel Llop. What a warrior!

    I used to support them in the Libertadores (despite Racing having a friendly relationship with Rosario Central and Newell’s being close to Independiente at that time). It was a pleasure to watch that team.

    I believe the player that missed that all-important penalty kick was Berizzo (the other central defender) and now an assistant manager to Marcelo Bielsa in Chile. By the way…Bielsa was Newell’s manager back then.

    It was probably the beginning of the end of Argentine football as I used to love it.

    Now I just follow it but I don’t feel it’s my number one priority.

    Argentine football in the 80s? That’s what I’m talking about! Golden era for me (and the grown ups always told me it was better before! haha!).

  12. Unfortunately, I don’t think many people in England had a clue what was happening in Argentine football during the 80s : (

    For reasons that don’t belong in this blog, I don’t think the TV companies in existence then would ever have considered showing it to a mass British audience – in the most ridiculous piece of censorship ever, the BBC even dropped the opening game of the 1982 World Cup.

    A list of results used to appear in Match magazine during the 80s in the ‘World of Football’ section, which is, I think, where I first read the names of Racing Club, Boca Juniors, River Plate, Newell’s Old Boys and Velez Sarsfield and wondered what all these exotically-named teams were like!

    I think the true cognoscenti used to read World Soccer, which was a much more highbrow magazine than it is today, and presumably carried more information, but it’s a bit strange reading about teams you can’t even see, especially when I was a child and young teenager.

    British satellite Screensport ‘adopted’ River Plate and Newell’s in the early 90s, and I remember seeing a few exciting matches, as well as brief snippets of Copa Libertadores on the afore mentioned Trans World Sport (a very strange programme that combined the mainstream with the most oddball sports they could possibly find!)

    I really got into futbol argentino when Spanish satellite channels started broadcasting weekly matches free-to-air to all Europe in 1994. I saw Claudio Garcia playing for Racing against Lanus, I think it was, scoring a great goal where he shielded the ball from a defender and kind of juggled it a bit before shooting in, and the passion and excitement of the crowd looked like exactly what was going missing from English football at the time (with the introduction of all-seater stadiums).

    I look at Argentine soccer as having a little of the flavour that English football had in the ‘maverick’ days of the 70s, sadly before my time… gifted individuals, small-town teams challenging the big boys, and exciting crowd participation (which sometimes goes over the top, of course).

    This blog really does show ‘the grass is always greener’. That overblown monstrosity of a competition the European Champions League is being played right now, yet I haven’t got the motivation to stay in front of the TV and watch Chelsea v Cluj, or Liverpool v PSV… it’s all so predictable and dull. Yet I’m fascinated by the Argentine game both on and off the pitch!

  13. Great story! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    I have to say it was the other way around here when it comes to European football (with the exception of Canal 9 showing almost every Napoli match every Sunday at 10 AM Buenos Aires when Diego was over at the San Paolo in the glorious 80s).

    Now? You can watch almost ANY European football match on a regular cable TV subscription. They are even starting to show the FA Cup, a tournament that I only got to watch live for the first time when *spit*Chelsea*spit* won it with goals from Gus Poyet in the mid-90s (I think it was against Spurs, but I might be wrong).

    I’m quite a fan of European domestic leagues and my favourite is the Premier League (with all the things that are wrong about it, it still gets my attention).

    I know some of you are bored about the Premiership and I guess I’ll get bored with time.

    At the moment, I feel a little bit bored about the Argentine league. Maybe every domestic league wears you down with time, I don’t know.

    One thing we will all surely agree on is that both leagues (Argentine and English) were a lot better in the past and what we are following now is just the remains of those fascinating tournaments in which you could remember the lineup of most teams as there were not as many transfers as there are today. Players didn’t have money as their top priority and when you have 11 v. 11 playing more for the love of the shirt rather than for money, you get better matches and you attract more people.

    Am I being melancholic? Maybe…

    I’m sure I’m not alone here!

    Now Racing will ruin my Friday night with a sure loss at Newell’s, aren’t they?

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