Tango Ball: Week Nine

"Tata" lets one rip while "Coco" begs for mercy.

We’re almost halfway through the Clausura season now, and the surprise this week is Newell’s Old Boys sitting in the runner-up slot. Recently-appointed manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino (who you might remember from Paraguay’s South Africa 2010 showing) has turned the team around fairly quickly.

Most weeks in this space I’ve been bringing you a brief overview of one of the lesser-known clubs from Argentina. So let’s talk NOB. Newell’s isn’t really a lesser-known club, as they have a long and proud history. Also, Lionel Messi. Newell’s is the largest club from the city of Rosario (one of the largest cities in Argentina). They play their home games at the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa (yes, that Bielsa), which holds 38,000 fans.

The club is named after Isaac Newell, an Englishman who emigrated to Argentina in the mid 1800s and established a school that would serve as the initial home of the club. The club’s nickname is The Leprosy and its fans are known as Lepers, which sounds awful until you hear the back story: the team was asked to play a charity match against derby rivals Rosario Central to benefit the leprosy ward of a local hospital, and they accepted enthusiastically. Central initially refused the invitation and earned the nickname Canallas (the rascals).

Newell’s was the first club to sell a player off to Europe when Julio “Matador” Libonatti transferred to Torino in 1925. Newell’s has a long history of producing world class players that went on to represent the national team. The aforementioned Bielsa is their most successful manager (won a pair of league titles in the early 90s and reached the Copa Libertadores final twice). The stadium was renamed in his honor in 2009.

Looking Back: Newell’s got into 2nd place last week by beating Racing (hooray!). Racing manager Alfio “Coco” Basile has now given himself an ultimatum: if Racing loses to San Lorenzo this weekend, he’ll quit.

I had promised an epic showdown between Estudiantes and Boca last week. Instead, Boca went into the House that Verón Built and spanked them 3-0 to regain the league lead. Santiago “Tank” Silva even broke his scoring slump and got on the board. I now declare Boca’s brief crisis to be over.

I also promised a nasty derby between Vélez and San Lorenzo. While Vélez did win 2-0, the only fallout was the axing of San Lorenzo manager Madelón, who was replaced by Caruso Lombardi (himself a reknowned former Newell’s man). I suppose I should be happy there wasn’t any insanity in the streets after this game. Good job, fans.

Gastón “the Cat” Caprari is still at the top of the golden boot table with five goals, but now he enjoys the company of Olimpo’s Andrés “Paranoia” Franzoia, who won a few titles with Boca last decade.

Midweek Gossip and Other Nonsense: About Lombardi taking over San Lorenzo, it should be noted that he abandoned Quilmes in the most critical stage of their promotion battle in order to take over a club that will most likely be relegated (even though Lombardi is convinced he can turn it around). Cervezero fans will probably never forgive him.

Olimpo’s manager quit after the team lost to Banfield 5-2. Olimpo is dead last in the relegation table and already doomed. Olimpo has been one of those yoyo clubs that bounces up and down between the first and second divisions. They’ll be back sooner or later.

Looking Forward: Somewhat surprised to see an actual fixture list on Easter weekend. Easter is a four day national holiday weekend in this mostly Roman Catholic country, and folks tend to head out to the countryside for the last bit of nice weather before winter sets in. But the show must go on, so we’ve got Independiente visiting Vélez tonight. Independiente has been playing a bit better lately, and this should be an interesting game, but I think Vélez will get the three points.

Boca gets a rare Saturday match when they host Argentinos, and Tigre visit All Boys as well. That’s it for the interesting Saturday games.

"Isn't it funny how I screwed over Quilmes?"

Estudiantes will bounce back against Belgrano on Sunday, while Newell’s should handle Godoy Cruz and keep the pressure on Boca. The “big game” Sunday is San Lorenzo at Racing, even though both teams suck hard right now. Even though I think Lombardi’s a smarmy A-hole (just look at the guy!), I expect the new manager bump to give San Lorenzo the edge over Basile, who seems to have lost his mojo.

Enjoy the Easter candy overindulgence and catch some Tango Ball if you get a chance.

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