ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES: Argentina’s ‘Initial Championship’ was dramatic right to the end – too much stress, apparently, for ageing FA boss Julio Grondona – but the decisive two concluding matches between the top four were merely a mirror of the season.
The day also finished with two more deaths which, added to the one after Boca Juniors’ “celebrations” in town earlier in the week. The last victims were two Newell’s fans returning home and who were shot, apparently, by Rosario Central fans in the city centre. That makes a total of 278 due to soccer violence this season.
As for the football, the 0-0 draw between Vélez Sarsfield and San Lorenzo saw players continually giving away possession. Although the in-form Vélez – five wins and three draws in their last eight games – were closer to victory in the end after poor form earlier in the tournament, one could have rarely seen a worse penalty not awarded to San Lorenzo.
A San Lorenzo player was grabbed and thrown to the ground in front of goal. It is impossible that the referee and linesmen did not see this. Perhaps Argentine referees have yet to be told that grabbing of opponents is not allowed.
Some say San Lorenzo won the title by divine right, because Argentine Pope Francis is a great fan of the club. Others say San Lorenzo deserved the title because they were the most stable, least erratic team.
That may be the best which could be said for them. The championship lacked any single stable team: certainly not Boca Juniors who had 61 injuries to players during the year (half of them muscular) and certainly not River Plate where coach Ramón Díaz made team changes in 24 of his 25 matches.
Visiting team fans were not allowed to attend matches all season in a mistaken ruling to prevent terrace violence because the authorities either do not know how or are afraid to tackle the hooligan problem properly.
Some visiting team fans got in as usual by paying a higher price as “neutrals”.
Hence the “neutrals” at Vélez Sarsfield cheered long and loud as San Lorenzo took the field. Foreigners seeing the decisive match played in a less than full stadium without visiting fans may think Argentinian football crazy, and who can blame them?
San Lorenzo scraped home despite obtaining the lowest ever points total (33) for champions in a one-round tournament. To their credit, however, was the rapid transformation of a team close to relegation not so long ago chiefly due to having better than average officials.
The other ‘last match’, a 2-2 draw between Newell’s Old Boys and Lanús was a lot better, appropriately, since these were the teams which played the best football over the campaign, such as there was.
Lanús put in a late challenge with a run of eight unbeaten games while Newell’s, who had been leading all the way, picked up only five points from their last eight games. The lack of any outstanding team was illustrated by the fact that Newell’s stayed top of the table until almost the end despite their fast-fading form.
Interestingly, Guillermo Barros Schelotto took his first coaching job at Lanús at the start of the 2012-13 season and met with immediate success with a fourth place in that season’s Initial Championship and a second in the Final Championship.
This season Lanús were second again in the Initial Championship and he has just become the first winner of the Copa Sudamericana as coach and player (with Boca Juniors).
This season he also picked up three players – Silva, Somoza and Acosta – which were not wanted by Boca and who have been a success at Lanús. Silva, the leading scorer, has won titles with the last four clubs in which he played: Banfield, Vélez, Boca and Lanús.
Clubs never manage to win both league and cup titles at the same time for a variety of reasons as mentioned before, but a new one can be added this season.
When Arsenal won the Copa Argentina earlier this season, the players spent the entire night celebrating. Then they had to face the long journey back to Buenos Aires from Catamarca and less than three days later had to play a league match against Tigre which, on form, they should have won.
They lost and those three points would have put them level at the top with San Lorenzo. This would have resulted in a playoff (Remember that Arsenal had beaten San Lorenzo 3-0 in the Copa Argentina final).
After Lanús won the Copa Sudamericana last Wednesday, the players’ celebrations went on until past 2am. Three-and-a-half days later, they had to play off-form Newell’s Old Boys and a win would have also forced a playoff with San Lorenzo for the league title.
They drew 2-2 against rivals which had two weeks rest. Professional soccer players are paid to be professional but both those of Arsenal and Lanús failed the test.