The Torneo Apertura started in chaos, with no-one sure which TV channels games would be screened on and many finding it so difficult to find just one title contender that Boca Juniors, of all teams, were held up by some commentators as the most likely candidates (I’d never make a silly mistake like that of course. Oh, heavens no). We’ve seen plenty of goals, a few new faces, and a heroic role for an old(ish) journeyman. In case you’ve forgotten any of it…
Banfield, obviously, are the most noteworthy. The last few seasons haven’t been easy for them. Neither of the sides who play the clásico del Sur had won a championship just over two years ago, and then Lanús beat their neighbours to it by winning the 2007 Apertura. Two years on, it’s Banfield’s turn. They might not have sizzled going forward, but by staying solid at the back and helping Uruguayan Santiago Silva to discover the best form of his career up front, they more than deserved their title.
Newell’s, who ran their title rivals so close and would have taken the championship themselves but for last weekend nerves getting the better of them against San Lorenzo, deserve a mention too: fifteenth in the Clausura, they regrouped with a strikingly similar lineup and finished second this time round. Argentinos achieved a similar jump in positions. They were so bad in the Clausura that they finished rock bottom of the league six months ago, but their 5-1 evisceration of Huracán on the last weekend saw them up to sixth – two positions higher than the Kings of the Americas, Estudiantes.
The best players
Santiago Silva, inevitably, rules this debate. To finish top scorer in any championship is an achievement, but he came startling close to setting a new short tournament record in the process; the 29-year-old scored fourteen goals in the Apertura’s 19 matches. Headers from corners, penalties; some of them, what’s more, were proper golazos, such as the strike against Estudiantes below. Having gone through twelve clubs – one per season throughout his career – prior to joining Banfield, he’s finally found the 13th to be his lucky number.
At the other end of the scale from the nomad come good was the man who started the campaign just barely on Newell’s Old Boys’ bench, but ended it as their main goalscoring hope when they needed to turn a match. Joaquín Boghossian, another Uruguayan, has made some impact in his season outside his homeland. Third top scorer with 11 goals, he mixed it up nicely, using his height to held him to four with his head. How he steps it up for the Clausura will be intriguing; if he does well enough he might even earn himself a transfer to River Plate, where he can watch his form fall to pieces.
And there are honourable mentions for San Lorenzo’s Fabián Bordagaray, who’s impressed me at least in his first season in the top flight; Estudiantes’ wide men Enzo Pérez and Leandro Benítez; and Maxi Moralez of Vélez, even if the rest of his team didn’t live up to the expectation of defending their Clausura title. One last diamond in the rough: not for the first time, Diego Buonanotte has been River Plate’s one bright point of the campaign. If he one day signs for a good team, imagine what he might do…
Team-wise, River and Boca once again failed to live up the eternal high expectations of their fans. It’s getting to be an old subject now though; will the remaining nine decades of the twenty-first century really see the continuation of this newly-levelled playing field for the rest of the country against its two footballing behemoths? Time will tell.
Huracán fans, of course, are the most disillusioned, but they’ll have hope for the future as well. Replacing both Javier Pastore and Matías Defederico when those two left after the second-place finish in the Torneo Clausura was never going to be a straightforward assignment, but even so Angel Cappa was disappointed enough in his efforts to resign well before the end of the championship. Second top six months ago, they were second bottom this time round, but the club’s structure and vision should allow them every opportunity to regroup for the Clausura under Héctor Rivoira.
Tigre, who finished bottom having challenged for the title in the previous two Aperturas, will be hoping their poor form doesn’t carry over into the Clausura as well. And even though they only came up this year, Chacarita Juniors can’t be pleased with the way their results have gone. Others have conceded more but Chaca have been absolutely tonked in some matches, and are bottom of the Promedio with just one point per match so far. They’ve got to improve if they’re going to stay in the Primera.
Manager of the campaign
Julio César Falcioni is the obvious choice, and he’s the one I’m going to give it to. It’s not every day, after all, that a manager leads a club who’ve previously never won anything at all (lower division titles excepted) to a title after a 113 year existence. Very honourable mentions go to Roberto Sensini for taking Newell’s so close, and to Américo Gallego of Independiente – El Rojo have their home back, and fourth place in this campaign suggests they like it there.
The great experiment
The Argentine government’s ‘Fútbol para todos‘ programme is a flagrant vote-garnering business, but all the same the decision to move top flight football onto freely available state television seems to have been a popular one for most. How it impacts on the lower divisions – whose matches are still shown on the cable provider TyC Sports who were cheated out of their contract with the Primera División at the start of the season – will be seen further down the line, though.
In what could be an extension of that government initiative, an NGO has been set up to help many barra brava groups secure funding to travel to South Africa 2010 to support the selección at the World Cup. Those who are ‘well behaved’ will be preferred, but perhaps crucially (and divisively) the gangs of River, Boca and Newell’s are among those left out of the deal. The man putting it together is open about it being a vote-winning exercise for the government, despite also insisting that the government has nothing to do with it. Néstor Kirchner does, though – and he’s not only the former President of Argentina, but is also married to the current one.
If that interests you and you live in the UK, keep an eye out for the new year issue of magazine When Saturday Comes, in which I go into rather more detail about it.
Check back tomorrow, when I’ll try to have the remaining part of this campaign review online: some of my picks for the goals of the Torneo.
You can now follow HEGS on Twitter (including updates during and between league matches and similar stories that might not go up on the site until later). I’ll keep mentioning this until I’m happy with the number of followers I’ve got, so save yourselves the misery and do it now.