Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
In recent years, the shiny-suited and delicately-stubbled visages of Sky Sports have been known to talk of 'The Big Four' (a fairly questionable notion itself, given the recent emergence of Manchester City), while in Spain there is a well-known duopoly – or big two, but few outside Argentina will know of the 'cinco grandes' or 'big five'.
Two of the quintet are, of course, River Plate and Boca Juniors - the biggest and best-supported clubs in the country. San Lorenzo are another, based in La Paternal region of Buenos Aires, and the final two both hail from nearby Avellaneda: Racing Club and Independiente.
This weekend, the latter pair will face off in the 'clasico de Avellaneda', and while it has always been in the shadow of the ‘superclasico’, for the first time since 1908 it will undoubtedly be the biggest derby in the country, following River's relegation in June. And while fans of both sides have always claimed this fixture is the most passionate Argieball has to offer, the club’s respective current situations add further gravitas to an already high-pressure fixture.
Racing are the sky blue half of the city, and are currently second in the table - chasing Boca Juniors. The 'academia' have assembled a strong squad, with Colombian duo Giovani Moreno and Teofilo Gutierrez the stars. Both players are known more commonly by the disyllabic versions of their forenames: Teo is a livewire forward who spent a brief spell in Turkey, while Gio is a lanky playmaker who oozes class and is seemingly destined for greater things having recovered from serious injury.
Simeone is hoping to maintain Racing's title push
Managed by Diego Simeone – infamous on English shores thanks to his contribution to David Beckham’s dismissal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup – Racing and their long-suffering fans will be hoping that following an undefeated opening half of the season, their unrivalled tendency for self-destruction manages to evade them in the quest for some overdue glory.
In the red half of the city, Independiente are having a rather worse time of things. Despite currently being in lower mid-table, they are preoccupied by the looming spectre of relegation.
With the complex system that defines relegation in Argentina, it is easy for a side to sometimes lose focus on the league, given that relegation is decided over an average points table over three years (six seasons). This meant that last year, when Independiente were struggling in the league and with no prospect of a domestic title, they piled all their resources into the Copa Sudamericana (the South American equivalent of the Europa League) and ended up winning it.
While this triumph cemented their reptutation as ‘rey de copas’ (king of cups) it only masked the deficiencies in the side, and no club that’s still in the top flight has accrued fewer points over the past twelve months.
Could Independiente's Copa Sudamericana win come at a cost?
Though there is little chance of them going down this year due to a successful domestic season in 2009/10 (which qualified them for the aforementioned continental competition in 2010/11), next year that will be wiped off, and Independiente know that with the debacle of the last twelve months added to what has been a mediocre campaign thus far, they will truly be in the relegation mire.
Despite a change in manager, they have not been able to improve in any noteworthy manner, and even the signing of Barcelona defender Gabriel Milito – a player who on the face of it should be too good for this league - has done little to reverse their fortunes. Independiente will be boosted by their superior record in these games, but in recent years they have tended to rely on sensational goalkeeping performances. Fabian Assman will start in goal on Sunday and recognizes the magnitude of this renewal:
“This Racing is the best that I have played… but these games are different and it will be fundamental that we win”
Truly, this weekend’s clash will be an amazing spectacle, not only is it currently the biggest grudge match in this football-mad country, but it will mark a turning point for the losing side. It could push Simeone’s Racing out of the title race – possibly seven points adrift of the top – or it could be the start of a hellish twelve months for the Red Devils, possibly resulting in them being the second grande to be relegated in as many years.
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