Apertura: half-term reports from Argentina

Who'll be smiling after another nine matches?

Since we’re now halfway (and a bit) through the 2010 Torneo Apertura, I thought I’d compile a very brief ‘report’ on each team so far, and how they’re doing in relation to what they’d have hoped/expected at the start of the season. I’m aiming for a short summation of each side, so don’t expect a big essay. And I’ll be starting at the top of the table and working down. I do this after having had a few pints to drink on Thursday evening, so bear with me if I’m a bit blunter with your team than you’d have liked. Here goes…

1. Club Estudiantes de La Plata: It could hardly be going any better really. Admittedly they’re out of the Copa Sudamericana, and lost to Liga de Quito in the Recopa, but on the plus side, they’re out of the Copa Sudamericana, and the Recopa doesn’t mean much anyway. Oh, and they’re five points clear at the top of the league, in spite of a shock loss to newly-promoted All Boys. If Alejandro Sabella still has hopes of becoming the new Argentina boss at the end of the year (and caretaker Sergio Batista said on Thursday that it would be ‘announced before the friendly with Brazil [next month]’), he’s going fantastically in the interview so far.

2. Vélez Sarsfield: A Newell’s player (I forget which, sorry) was in Thursday’s papers as saying that ‘Estudiantes and Vélez are miles ahead of everyone.’ The fact that he said this even though Arsenal are in fact level on points with Vélez ought to give some indication of how impressive they’ve been. The 6-0 win over Colón last weekend wasn’t just good, it was positively brutal. They need to hope Estudiantes drop a lot of points in the coming weeks, but all the same they’ve been impressive thus far.

3. Arsenal de Sarandí: They’ve been functional more than anything – their fourth round win by two goals to one away to Independiente was the last time they scored more than one goal in a match. Whatever the reason, they’re five points of the lead. There’s a lot of catching up to do if they’re to qualify for the 2011 Copa Libertadores, though. In fact, they might need to claim the title in order to stand a chance of that.

4. Lanús: Following their 7th round thrashing away to Racing, they’ve won three in a row, including away to Boca and last week at home to San Lorenzo. Agustín Pelletieri has been especially impressive in midfield, and if they can stay ahead of their main rivals (which means Newell’s and Banfield, and overtaking Vélez) they could well qualify for the Copa next year.

5. Newell’s Old Boys: Haven’t lost since the opening weekend at home to Estudiantes. Their wins in recent rounds at home to River Plate (who at that point weren’t quite as hapless as they are now) and Vélez were both highly impressive, and demonstrated that taking anything away from Parque Independencia is never easy. If Vélez don’t claim the title, Newell’s are currently in poll position to overtake them for qualification to the 2011 Copa Libertadores, and with Mauro Fórmica on fire, they’d be well worth it.

6. Godoy Cruz: The mendocinos continue to punch above their historical weight this year. They’ve already thrashed Independiente at home and Lanús away this year, and their only two losses have been against leaders Estudiantes, and a Tigre side who at that point had only just started to click. After an impressive Clausura, they’re in second place in the 2010-long table, and therefore should, if they keep this form up, qualify with something to spare for next year’s Libertadores.

7. River Plate: Oh dear. It started so well, but just three points out of a possible twelve in their last four matches have seen Ángel Cappa’s side slide down both tables; they’re way off the title challenge and also in the playoff places in the promedio. This weekend’s visit to Mendoza may or may not bring any joy, but the following week’s clásico at home to Racing is key. And not just because one of my best friends – a Racing fan – is arriving in Buenos Aires next week and will be in the away end, whilst I’ll be in the home side of the Estadio Monumental…

8. San Lorenzo: Apparently, they don’t play on Sundays because Ramón Díaz has requested to the AFA that he be allowed to spend that day with his family on hisquinta (weekend house) in the country with a barbecue. At present, South America’s answer to José Mourinho hasn’t got his side firing as they might do yet. Last weekend’s defeat to Lanús was their third in a row, and San Lorenzo need to halt that run on Friday evening at home to Tigre if they’re to stand a chance of next year’s Libertadores.

9. Banfield: The Copa Sudamericana has proved a distraction so far for Julio César Falcioni’s side, but now they’ve been eliminated from that competition it’ll be interesting to see how quickly they can regain their focus and try to climb the table. On Saturday they’re at home, but it’s a tricky fixture against Newell’s. My money would be on an away win, but after this weekend things might begin to change…

10. Racing: It’s fitting that they find themselves in tenth, after playing a clásico on Sunday (the 10/10/2010) without their most important player who is, coincidentally, their number 10. When Racing haven’t got Giovanni Moreno (who last weekend was away playing friendlies with Colombia, which FIFA say are more important than competitive league matches) to call on, they tend to lose. When they do have him to hand, they’re a totally different prospect. The Colombian is arguably one of the players of the season so far, and if he stays on his current form Racing might just climb the table before December arrives.

11. Boca Juniors: They’re still waiting for Juan Román Riquelme to return, and their current position speaks volumes of the kind of team Boca are without him. In recent weeks, they’ve started patching together wins, but even with Cristian Chávez finally starting to fill the playmaker’s boots, Boca don’t quite look the finished article. The sooner Román returns, the better, for Claudio Borghi and all others concerned. As El Bichi Borghi himself said a couple of days ago, ‘beating River won’t make up for the rest of the year this club has had.’

12. Tigre: Quite simply dreadful in the opening weeks of the season. Not only did Tigre struggle to score, never mind win, they played the kind of football that made one want to ease one’s eyes out with a blunt object rather than spend another moment looking at the television. Their 3-0 win over Quilmes in the fourth round, although it was against a woeful team, seemed to give them some confidence though. They might climb the table, but I’d expect them to stay roughly where they are.

13. All Boys: What can be said. They didn’t just beat Boca in the third round, they comprehensively outplayed them. In the seventh round, they did even better; Estudiantes might not be quite as historically big a name, but they’re a far tougher proposition out on the pitch, and they were dispatched too in the seventh round. Since that high, All Boys have fallen away slightly (losing one and drawing two), but their campaign so far has been enough to keep them out of the relegation mire. They’ll hope for more of the same from here on in.

14. Colón: There was a time when the name El Cementerio De Los Elefantes (‘The Elephants’ Graveyard) meant something when applied to Colón’s stadium. Big teams – indeed, all-time great teams – travelled to Santa Fe and left with nothing. Pelé’s Santos, the great Boca and Independiente sides of the 1960s… but today, Colón are a different story. Their 2-0 win over San Lorenzo was the only home win they’ve had so far this season, and the 6-0 tonking they got from Vélez in Liniers last week was more indicative of the kind of season that led to Antonio Mohamed insisting he wasn’t the right man to manage El Sabalero. They’ll be hopeful of an improvement, but it’s hard to see how it’ll arrive.

15. Argentinos Juniors: Last season’s Clausura champions took a whole eight rounds before they managed to win a match. Since then they’ve won one more and drawn one, and have played far better football. It seems that Pedro Troglio’s side might finally have worked out how to function without so many of the players who drove them to the title a few months ago, and Néstor Ortigoza and Juan Mercier are rediscovering the form that made them the Clausura (joint) players of the tournament. As champions, they’re assured a place in the 2011 Copa Libertadores, so will be hopeful of rediscovering their form in order to give a good showing of themselves at continental level.

16. Huracán: Another side who’ve switched managers, with Héctor Rivoira finding it too hard to follow in Ángel Cappa’s footsteps. As Rivoira pointed out, he didn’t have the likes of Javier Pastore and Matías Defederico on his team, but at the same time it doesn’t help when your players are playing as if they’ve been introduced to one another ten minutes before kick off.

17. Independiente: Just for once, Racing fans are celebrating something at this stage. Okay, El Rojo might have won last weekend’s clásico, but Antonio Mohamed’s new side are still below La Academia in the Apertura standings, and if All Boys can pull another big win out of the bag this weekend, Argentina’s longest-suffering fans will be laughing at their rivals again. Under Mohamed though, Independiente should be a very different proposition for the second half of the campaign.

18. Quilmes: It comes to something when you’re not bottom, but you’re still the only team without a win so far this season. After seeing the way Quilmes have performed so far, it’s difficult to say where that winless run is going to end, and it surely won’t be at home to an in-form Vélez this weekend coming. Relegation certainties, and due a few more thrashings in spite of Santiago Raymonda showing he’s still got it in the classic enganche position.

19. Gimnasia La Plata: River’s main competitors for the relegation playoff places, and the Millonarios’ main hope is that Gimnasia are in even worse form. Their only win so far was such an embarrassment for the opposition that it forced Héctor Rivoira’s resignation from Huracán. They’ve livened up a bit in recent weeks, but sadly for them all that means is that the defeats have got a bit more exciting; the 2-4 home defeat to Argentinos a couple of weeks ago was comfortably the best match they’ve been involved in so far.

20. Olimpo de Bahía Blanca: They came up this year, and they’re going straight back down again on their showing so far. Beating Gimnasia scarcely means anything; beating Racing was a bit more of an achievement, but only just. Those were their only two wins to date, and in losing the other eight (they haven’t got a single draw) they’ve shipped eighteen goals – only Colón have conceded as many. It’s going to be a long season down by the seaside…

You can follow the daily ins and outs during the 2010 Apertura, as well Argentine clubs in the Copa Sudamericana, the country’s vast foreign legion and the latest news from the selección during the 2010-2011 season direct from Buenos Aires with HEGS on Twitter. If you’ve not signed up yet you can do so here. You can also join the official HEGS Facebook group, to keep up to date with the latest posts on the blog and discuss things with other fans. You’ll find it here.

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Photo from nacho akd via the HEGS Flickr group

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