It’s been relatively unheralded here on HEGS so far, but Hand Of Pod listeners will be aware that there’s a new competition in Argentine football this season which is well underway. The Copa Argentina is the AFA’s first attempt at a regular knockout competition since the 1970 edition – the second – was abandoned at the semi-final stage. Knockout rounds were played by teams from every province in Argentina and, last month, clubs from the top two divisions – the Primera and the Nacional B – entered the fray. The few remaining matches from the last 64 won’t be played until February, so here I’ll recap who’s left in the tournament so far, and some of the main shocks.
River Plate, who of course can’t challenge for the league title this season for the first time in over a century, are taking the chance to nonetheless win a competition seriously, and played one of the round’s most high-profile ties against their very near neighbours, Defensores de Belgrano. The peculiarities of the
addled, senile minds of the AFA head honchos competition’s organisation meant that this match between two teams from the City of Buenos Aires, whose stadia are roughly 600 metres apart, was played nearly a thousand kilometres (640 miles) away in San Juan. River legend Ariel Ortega was playing for Defensores, and for the first time he failed to score in a match against River (previously he’d played four games against them, all for Newell’s, and scored in each) as the Millonarios won 1-0.
The other matches all followed a similar format; namely being played in neutral stadia often thousands of kilometres from where either side play their home matches. Nearly all the matches were between a team from the top two divisions and a team from further down the pyramid, and whilst the majority finished as expected, there were a few shocks, as there should be in any decent knockout competition.
Also in San Juan, one of the biggest shocks was Sportivo Italiano dumping Godoy Cruz out on penalties, 4-2 after a 1-1 draw. Leandro Sigali was sent off for Godoy, and Gustavo Daniel Britos was the hero for Italiano, scoring in the first half to give them a lead at the break and scoring the first penalty after Godoy had levelled in the second half. Elsewhere Patronato, of Nacional B (the second division) put Newell’s Old Boys out 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw; Sarmiento de Resistencia, who play in Torneo Argentino B, the regionalised fourth division, beat Gimnasia y Esgrima de Jujuy of Nacional B 1-0, and Racing got a Teo Gutiérrez-inspired victory over El Porvenir, with the striker getting both goals in their 2-0 win.
Racing’s great rivals Independiente breezed through, beating Colegiales, of the B Metropolitano (third division) 4-0, and Belgrano de Córdoba beat Sacachispas of C Metropolitana (fourth division) 3-0. In an all-Nacional B clash, Aldosivi de Mar del Plata drew 1-1 with Independiente Rivadavia de Mendoza, and the Mar del Plata side won through 5-3 on penalties. One of the most highly-charged clashes was played in Huracán’s Estadio Tomás A. Duco here in Buenos Aires, and resulted in Atlanta, who last season won promotion to Nacional B, putting All Boys out 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. That tie had been eagerly anticipated because it’s a clásico between two of the most typical ‘neighbourhood clubs’ in the City of Buenos Aires.
San Lorenzo beat Villa Dálmine 2-1 to ensure that the four members of the Big Five who’ve played so far are all through to the next round; Boca Juniors won’t play their match against Santamarina, in Salta, until the new year, having been given permission to delay their match so as not to get in the way of their league title run-in (yes, seriously). The other ties still to be played are: Vélez Sarsfield v Racing de Trelew (in Salta); Guillermo Brown v Rosario Central (Santa Fe); General Lamadrid v Arsenal de Sarandí (Salta); Racing de Olavarria v Argentinos Juniors (Salta), and Lanús v Barracas Central (Salta).
Among the most interesting-looking ties in the next round, the dates for which haven’t been set yet, are Belgrano v Independiente, Chacarita Juniors v San Lorenzo, Sportivo Belgrano v River Plate (another tie against a ‘Belgrano’ side for River, although Sportivo play in the Province of Córdoba), and Tigre v Gimnasia La Plata. The full ‘tree’, if you’d like to see it, can be seen here.
The Copa Argentina isn’t perfect – I’d rather everyone got the chance to play in front of their own fans instead of fans of smaller clubs having to travel vast distances across the country just to make use of the Copa América stadia – but it’s a step forward which should fill a gap in Argentina’s footballing market and, fingers crossed, prevent the AFA from continuing to consider a 38-team top flight as they did a few months ago. I’ll try and keep you updated as the rounds progress next year.
You can follow the latest news from the selección and Argentina’s foreign legion of players, as well as the domestic championship, River Plate’s first second division campaign in over a century and the ever entertaining/tragic/infuriating capers of Julio Grondona & chums 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. And remember to bookmark Hand Of Pod, our Argentine football podcast, or if you prefer you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.