Since the Not So Super Superclásico
The super, in the end, wasn’t so super as a match. That’s not really anything unusual for a fixture in which the pressure and the intensity of the rivalry often produces foul-laden, fairly poor matches, but in recent years River Plate and Boca Juniors have given us some absolute crackers, so we were probably due a dud. That it’s also the first superclásico in ages at the point of which both sides have had genuine title aspirations is probably not a coincidence.
The match, a week-and-a-half ago now, came in the middle of the lowest week of River’s season so far. After a 2-1 loss in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores last sixteen tie with San Lorenzo, they lost 1-0 in La Bombonera, Sebastián Battaglia scoring the only goal of the game for Boca. The contest improved a fair bit after half time, but was still never up to much, with River’s attacks looking increasingly desperate as the minutes ticked down. Desperation didn’t seem to be on the agenda a few nights later, though, when they took on San Lorenzo in the second leg of the Copa tie.
The away goal gave River a lifeline, and after an hour, as Sebastián Abreu slotted home a penalty, they were completely in control. Ahead on aggregate, 2-0 up on the night and San Lorenzo, to boot, had had two men sent off. With 30 minutes left, the visitors’ challenge looked as dead in the water as Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic US Presidential nomination. But Ramón Díaz’s men, like Clinton, never quite know when they’re beaten in this Copa, and Gonzalo Bergessio scored twice in five minutes for San Lorenzo, who then hung on for a 2-2 draw on the night and an incredible 4-3 aggregate win. If there was such a thing as a superdelegate in the Copa, it would surely be San Lorenzo boss Ramón Díaz, whose side who could meet Boca in the semi-final, if both sides advance from their quarters, and are dreaming of finally claiming their first Copa.
This weekend just gone, though, saw things get dramatically better for River and the other Argentine side to be eliminated in the last sixteen of the Copa, Estudiantes. Both were still joint leaders of the Torneo Clausura table going into the last round of matches, and Estudiantes beat Boca to open up a gap at the top again – Boca’s win over River the previous week had taken them just a point from the summit. A couple of hours after that match in La Plata, River hosted Estudiantes’ cross-city rivals, Gimnasia. Playing poorly in the first half, they trailed 2-1 at half time, but blew their opponents away in the second period to run out 4-2 winners and return to the top of the table. River and Estudiantes now have 30 points each, Vélez Sársfield and San Lorenzo 27, Independiente and Boca 26. Five matches remain. Are you reading, Mr. Scudamore?
On Sunday, River have another clásico, this time away to fellow high-fliers Independiente, whilst Estudiantes ‘visit’ Gimnasia (they share a stadium at present) in the La Plata clásico. And as if there weren’t enough rivalries to be going on with for a weekend, Boca host Racing – who desperately need points from somewhere, anywhere, to avoid a relegation playoff – and Huracán play San Lorenzo in yet another derby. The super may be the headline-getter, but it’s far from Argentina’s only rivalry.
One of the sides involved in the upcoming ‘weekend of hate’ have been making themselves look a little stupid this week already, though. Regular readers, see if you can guess who. It’ll come as a surprise to no-one who remembers my previous Pitch Invasion columns to hear that the ones being pointed and laughed at by their peers are Racing. Yes, them again. They’ve slipped well and truly into the relegation zone and are now behind Rosario Central in the Promedio, occupying a relegation playoff place. Last weekend they were absolutely pathetic in the second half of their 1-1 draw against Argentinos Juniors, and were met on Monday by a group of unhappy fans at their training session.
So far, so usual for a side who’ve been woeful for a few years now. But this Monday was a little different. One fan, Mauro Paidón, voiced his disgust at the players’ performance more volubly than others. After an exchange of views with a couple of the squad, he returned to his car, Upon which two Lucozade bottles landed close by him having been thrown over the fence from the training pitch. ‘My back was turned, so I didn’t see which players threw them,’ he told the press. It’s a thoroughly embarrassing incident for the Avellaneda club, but it’s also entirely in keeping with the way their season’s going now. One Racing-supporting friend tells me most weeks in emails that the current side are the worst he can ever remember the club having, and that there’s no reason a decent B Nacional side wouldn’t be able to beat them in a promotion playoff if they can’t get out of this mess. With Boca coming up this weekend and the Avellaneda derby against Independiente also still on the agenda, it’s hard to see a way out for La Academia now.
The quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores are next up, then. Boca take on Atlas on Wednesday evening in Vélez Sársfield’s stadium for the home leg. La Bombonera is closed for the quarters and the semis after a linesman was hit by an ice cube thrown from the VIP section at the tail end of their first leg 2-1 win over Cruzeiro in the last sixteen. San Lorenzo take on LDU Quito, Estudiantes’ second round conquerors, on Thursday evening, and will be looking for a big win in the first – home – leg to give them some cushion before travelling to play at altitude in the Ecuadorian capital. The vanquished parties, River and Estudiantes, now have only the league to concentrate on – but it’s those two who are in the driving seat where that campaign is concerned.