One hundred and eleven years. Thirty three league titles. Five international cups. One nasty, humiliating relegation.
If you’ve followed world soccer at all over the past six months, you undoubtedly know that Club Atlético River Plate, the most successful club in Argentine league history, got relegated last year. For a club whose nicknames include The Millionaires and Champions of the Century, that’s unthinkable. And yet, here we are.
This (hopefully) weekly series will attempt to follow River Plate’s ups and downs in Nacional B, Argentina’s second division. Los Millos have been toiling there since August, earning nine wins, six draws, and three losses in the first half of the season. That’s good enough for second place, two points behind Instituto de Córdoba. Second place is also an automatic promotion spot.
As you may have guessed, that’s not good enough for River fans. They want to see their team win the league handily.
The drama over the second half of the season centers around the maligned club’s ability to sew up a return to the first division with time to spare. Matías “Buzzcut”* Almeyda has done a fairly decent job building a winning team out of the ashes of last year’s wreck, but there’s room for improvement. There were a couple significant signings during the winter (our summer) break, including Fernando “Little Bull” Cavenaghi and Alejandro “Sausage” Dominguez. Cavenaghi returned from Bordeaux and leads the team in scoring, while Dominguez came back from Valencia to be the creative engine for the offense.
The most famous signing, however, was just completed during this January transfer window. David Trezeguet left the UAE’s Bani Yas to play soccer in Argentina for the first time since his brief spell with Platense in the early nineties. Trezegol says he’s been dreaming of playing for River since he was a boy. Let’s hope his 34 year old legs won’t turn this into a nightmare.
The phenomenon of River Plate playing in the second division has led to some interesting circumstances. For starters, AFA officials were basically forced to allow the return of visiting fans to Nacional B stadia, something which had been banned years ago for security reasons. This has enabled second division clubs with decent stadiums to cash in on all those Gallinas (literally “chickens”, the standard putdown nickname for River Plate) who’ve been traveling in much greater numbers during these “difficult times”.
Even more interesting, and more relevant to us right now, River Plate is participating in the annual Torneo de Verano (Summer Tournament) preseason cup. This is the first time I can recall a second division club competing in this event, which traditionally only invites the most popular clubs from Argentina’s top division. The “money shot” of every Torneo de Verano is the Súperclásico derby between River Plate and Boca Juniors, which is the first time each year that the two biggest rivals in Argentina square off.
This year, there’s been a great deal of hand-wringing over the two matches. The players and coaches from both teams have repeatedly said that the matches should not be played, citing security concerns. Simply put, there’s a pretty good chance WWIII will break out in the streets either before, during, or after one of these games. Nonetheless, these are pretty lucrative fixtures for the clubs, and they’ll go forward as scheduled.
River Plate kicked off their preseason campaign last Saturday with an uneventful scoreless draw (Spanish link**) against Estudiantes de La Plata. Trezeguet did not play, and the match was perhaps notable for the inclusion of Juan Sebastián “Little Witch” Verón in the Estudiantes lineup. Apparently, he’s not retiring after all.
Last night, players and fans got a nice confidence boost when they bested Racing Club 2-1 to win a meaningless preseason trophy. Former FC Dallas youth academy star Rogelio “Fujimori” Funes Mori opened the scoring, but the highlight was definitely Trezegol’s debut on the scoreline. Peep the goal below:
The Boca v. River Superclásico tilts are scheduled for the 25th and the 29th of January. The next fixture of the Nacional B league is set for February 4th, when River will face sixth place Almirante Brown.
Can River Plate succeed in their efforts to return to the top flight? As a snarky blogger who enjoys throwing poo from the comfort of his mostly anonymous perch, I hope not. Let them come this close to promotion, then fail. Then we can all laugh about it together (well, except for River fans). Stay tuned.
*Henceforth, all South American player nicknames will be translated into English whenever possible, for added WTF flavor.
**I nearly always link to articles in either Spanish or Portuguese, but will try to link to English articles whenever I can.