Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
Matchday 3 results: Olimpo 3-3 Godoy Cruz, Colón 1-3 Gimnasia, Lanús 2-1 Quilmes, San Lorenzo 1-2 Racing, Boca 0-0 All Boys, Estudiantes 0-1 Banfield, Argentinos 1-1 Vélez, Independiente 0-1 River, Huracán 1-1 Arsenal, Tigre 1-0 Newell’s
Winning the Carling Cup and going down is, frankly, small fry in comparison. Anyone can poach on a centre-back’s blunder, having played the underdog card well, closed down for 90 minutes and then take the silverware home, qualify for European football, but go down in the same season.
No, here comes the trump card. It's one of the delightful idiosyncrasies of Argentina, where relegation spots are worked out over an average of the last three years, that it's possible to be fighting off relegation and challenge for the league title at the same time.
Looking through the history books, one side of the story about how River Plate and Olimpo are top of the Clausura, but battling at the wrong end of the relegation averages, makes sense.
River Plate, with their 33 league titles, should be challenging for the title. And Olimpo, as a Newly Promoted Side with a modest three second division titles, were expected to be the whipping boys (NPSs always struggle to stay up). The two sides have copied each other, morphed and become a confusing amalgamation of each other.
River are struggling as they still pay the price for a shocking campaign when Diego Simeone was in charge. While the three-year rule saved them from relegation back in 2007, it also condemned Los Millonarios to misery for the next three.
A cagey debut away to Tigre with essentially seven defenders resulted in the predictable scoreless 90 minutes, but steadied the boat after the club had been roundly mocked for their tepid foray into the transfer market – a solitary free transfer.
They they defeated Huracán 2-0 in a six-pointer on home soil before travelling to Independiente just last weekend. A more conservative second half resulted in less entertainment, but Mariano ‘The Tank’ Pavone, or ‘The Spartan’ as Matías Almeyda re-baptised him, pounced to win all three points from the clásico in the 88th minute.
For their part, Olimpo finished 17th in the Apertura just a couple of months ago. As they only just came up, they don’t have the help or hindrance of previous seasons’ points tally to come into play, but their poor opening season left them in the direct relegation spot.
This campaign, however, they started off with a brilliant and unexpected win against Banfield before their own six-pointer, at Gimnasia. Weathering the storm, metaphorically and physically, in the first half, the southerners delighted their 50-odd travelling fans after half-time with three goals and all three points.
At the weekend, home to Godoy Cruz, they took a two-goal lead, squandered it and were trailing 2-3, only to score the equaliser with 93:32 on the clock. Godoy Cruz’s complaints that the goal was offside and that they played 32 seconds too long were fully justified but totally ignored.
So it is that River and Olimpo head the pack, but have other concerns. River are nine points from the danger zone, so a top-six finish should see them clear, but they are the nearest name to the four relegation spots.
Olimpo, meanwhile, have a different proposition altogether. They are in the relegation play-off position, but are River’s nine points from saftey. Even if they stay top of the table till the very end of the season, if the teams around them and directly above them fare well, they could still face the relegation battle come June, and of course go down. As champions. That's Argentina.
Special mention of the week: Teófilo Gutierrez (Racing) – The Colombian new boy undid his good work of a brace, helping the Academy win the clásico with San Lorenzo, by going on Sunday night TV and declaring himself a River Plate fan.
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