Well, Boca Juniors is still on top this week, so that sucks if you’re not a Boca fan. The surprise of the week was Arsenal de Sarandí finishing in second place with a win over table footers Olimpo. It’s not surprising that Arsenal beat the weakest team in the league. It is surprising that other teams like Newell’s and Vélez faltered to allow El Arse to grab second.
A bit on Arsenal de Sarandí: the club was founded in 1957 by brothers Julio and Héctor Grondona in the neighborhood of Avellaneda, which already had two popular clubs: Racing and Independiente. In fact, the club takes its team colors (red and light blue) from those two clubs. The Grondona brothers went on to bigger things: you know Julio as “The Godfather”, the untouchable President for life of AFA and FIFA VP; Héctor served briefly as president of Independiente and passed away earlier this week. Arsenal has been in Primera since 2004 and managed to win the Copa Sudamericana in 2007 and the Suruga Bank Cup in 2008, massive achievements for such a small club. They’ve never won a league title.
Looking Back: As mentioned, Boca beat Argentinos to stay top, while Vélez struggled against Independiente (1-1) and Newell’s drew with Godoy Cruz (1-1 as well). Most alarming is probably the collapse of Estudiantes, who lost to Belgrano (2-1) and are now five points behind Boca. In the big match of the week, Racing and San Lorenzo drew (yet another 1-1), which allowed Basile to keep his job at Racing for another week and helped San Lorenzo a bit with their relegation issues.
Speaking of San Lorenzo, there was a nasty storm last weekend (Span link) that dropped hail, heavy rain and wind on the city of Buenos Aires, causing over a million dollars in damages to the club’s facilities. It even made a big hole in their stadium’s visiting stands (see pic above). The club’s financial straits prevent them from making the necessary repairs, so they’ll have to play a couple home games at nearby stadia like Boca’s Bombonera.
We now have a four-way tie in what is turning out to be an underwhelming golden boot race: Darío “Ronaldin” Gandín, Gastón “The Cat” Caprari, Andrés “Paranoia” Franzoia, and Maxi Urruti all have five. MOAR GOLZ PLZ.
Midweek Gossip and Other Nonsense: the sad tale of Matías “Maty” Defederico grabbed headlines (Span link) this week. The Independiente midfielder had been busted down to the reserve squad earlier in the season by coach Cristian Diaz, then he tore his ACL. Adding insult to injury, he was the victim of a carjacking this week when thieves commandeered his BMW, leaving him on foot and kidnapping his passenger (who was released later). If I was a wealthy pro soccer player in South America, I’d drive a beat up old pickup truck and keep a low profile.
Despite his brother’s passing, Julio Grondona went ahead with a meeting at AFA HQ Tuesday night to propose a new league format (Span link). Starting next season, promotion playoffs would be eliminated and three teams would be relegated each year: the team at the bottom of the table and the two teams with the lowest relegation averages. The controversy surrounds whether or not the clubs will accept a return to the traditional 38 game season and do away with the short leagues. Grondona is pushing for the longer season while some officials prefer the status quo.
Looking Forward: We’re now at the halfway mark of the Clausura season. Nine weeks left. Only 13 points separate the top from the bottom, and positions could still shift dramatically.
The match of the week is undoubtedly the Clásico de Avellaneda: Independiente hosts Racing Club. The Avellaneda derby is traditionally the second biggest rivalry game in Argentina, behind Boca v. River. Given the lack of a Boca v. River game this season, this would be considered the biggest game of the season if it weren’t for the fact that both Avellaneda clubs are strugggggling right now. Independiente is in 13th place with 10 points while Racing is in 14th place with 9. The game will be played rather anticlimactically at noon local time tomorrow, so no big Sunday afternoon derby here. Still, a loss for Racing could mean Alfio Basile calls it quits, while Independiente fans don’t see much chance of challenging for the title this year and derby wins are all they’ve got left.
Other significant matchups: Boca visits 6th place Tigre, who are still in the relegation zone and would love to steal points from the league leaders. That’s unlikely. In fact, I think the top five in the table this week should all get wins so you probably won’t see much change there. But you never know. If Tigre upsets Boca and Newell’s beats Banfield, we could have a new leader just like that.