This series will hopefully be a weekly preview of Argentina’s Clausura league, which gets underway tomorrow night. The Argentine league is consistently rated as one of the best in the world and is one of the top “seed leagues” for big European clubs looking for their next star. That’s why you want to watch.
This series will also serve as a review of the previous weekend’s action and I’ll throw in any amusing news or salacious gossip. I’m calling it Tango Ball. Tango is synonymous with Argentina, so much so that Adidas named the official match ball of the 1978 World Cup after it. They’ve also gone and produced a modern version with the same name for this tournament.
I’m also trying to avoid the recently announced (Spanish link) official name of the league, “Crucero General Belgrano”. Besides the awkwardness of naming your football league after a battleship that was sunk during the Falklands War, there’s the fact that it reeks of populist government propaganda while simultaneously pissing off everyone in the British Commonwealth. Not that Julio “Godfather” Grondona cares much for the British people, anyway.
I don’t want to go on about politics, though. Suffice it to say I wish they’d just have some bland corporate sponsor buy the naming rights. Let’s get back to the actual soccer, shall we?
The Contenders: Boca Juniors are the favorites, based solely on their performance in the Apertura, where they finished undefeated through 19 matches and only gave up six goals. BUUUUT, there’s some good reasons why it will be a lot harder for Los Xeneizes to repeat. Their fixture schedule is jam-packed. They open the Clausura tomorrow night against Olimpo. A rare Friday night game for Boca is due to the fact that they’re starting their Copa Libertadores campaign on Tuesday. Then they’re also competing in the Copa Argentina (ie. the FA Cup). Boca’s manager, Julio Cesar “The Emperor” Falcioni insists they’ll try to win all three competitions. Does Falcioni’s squad have the depth required to do that? I have my doubts.
Four clubs tied on points for a distant second behind Boca last season. Racing Club lost their manager, Diego “Cholo” Simeone at Christmas when he left for Atlético Madrid. They’ve replaced him with Alfio “Coco” Basile. Racing probably have a great shot at the title, but I hate them, so they can suck it. I’d be surprised if Belgrano de Córdoba can improve on last season, especially since they’re technically still a newly promoted side. I like Colón de Santa Fe, and they’ve brought in Gabriel “Batigol” Batistuta as a sort of GM, which is awesome. But I don’t think they’ve been able to reinforce themselves as much as they will need to make a title chase.
Despite losing Santiago “Tank” Silva to Boca during the January transfer window, I think Vélez Sarsfield has the best chance of challenging Boca’s attempt to win it all. Ricardo “Tiger” Gareca always puts a solid squad on the pitch. They’ve also got a busy fixture schedule with Copa Libertadores and Copa Argentina, though. In the end, we may find that the club that fizzles out on the continent (whether it’s Boca or Vélez) will run away with the Clausura title.
The Also Rans: This is everybody else. Seriously, the great thing about Tango Ball is the parity. Any club that looked weak last year could go on a tear this year and wind up champions. It’s very unpredictable, which makes it fun. I like what Néstor “Pipo” Gorosito is working on at Argentinos Jrs, and they just signed a striker from Spain (Sebastián Balsas). He might work out. Or not. Lanús are a decent midtable squad, sort of the Aston Villa of Argentina. Godoy Cruz has been doing great the last couple seasons and they love to play the spoiler whenever they face the bigger clubs.
I’m crossing my fingers that Ramón “Buzzcut” Diaz can make something of my beloved Independiente this season. Despite having a massive debt load, the Red Devils of Avellaneda have brought in some good reinforcements, but preseason results were underwhelming. There’s also a revolving door of starting keepers. Neither Navarro, Gabbarini, or Rodriguez have been able to seal up the starting job. I was hoping Fabián “Ass Man” Assmann would get it for comedy’s sake, but he just had surgery for appendicitis this week and will be out a month.
Relegation Fears: The clubs at the bottom of Argentina’s dreaded Descenso relegation table are San Lorenzo, Tigre, and Olimpo. They’ll all need A++ Clausura campaigns to stay up. For a big club, San Lorenzo is in particularly bad shape financially and it’s really not looking good for them. More on this group as the season wears on.
Key matchups this week: I like Estudiantes v. Newell’s on Saturday and Vélez v. Godoy Cruz on Sunday afternoon. Honestly, not a ton of great matchups for opening weekend. Boca should dispatch Olimpo easily. Let’s hope for an upset in that one.