River Plate return to the
top flight of Argentine football at the weekend after the
indignity playing in the second division and will immediately
face the team who sent them down a little more than one year
In a quirk football seems to have a habit of producing, the
fixture list has paired River with Belgrano on the opening day
of the season, the same team who beat them over two legs in a
River's relegation sent shockwaves through the country as it
was thought the Argentine Football Association (AFA) had
engineered a system which made it impossible for any of the big
clubs to go down.
Relegation is decided on a points-per-game average over
three years, the logic being that while a big club may have one
bad season, they are unlikely to have three in row.
However, beset by financial and organisational problems,
River did exactly that and their woes ended with a 3-1 aggregate
defeat to Cordoba-based Belgrano in the 2010-11 playoff.
Coached by Matias Almeyda and boosted by the signing of
former France international David Trezeguet, who was raised in
Buenos Aires, they won promotion at the first attempt last
Their presence means the return of the River-Boca derbies,
one of the football world's great fixtures.
Boca themselves will be coming to terms with the departure
of talismanic playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, who quit the club
after they lost the Libertadores Cup final to Corinthians.
For the first time since 1990-91, the season will have only
one single champion.
The last 21 seasons have been divided into two
championships, known as the Apertura (Opening) and Clausura
(Closing) with the 20 teams meeting once in each.
This time, the winners of each championship, which will be
renamed 'Inicial' and 'Final', will meet in an end-of-season
It is still not the same as a European league system as the
team which has the most points over the whole season may not
necessarily win the title. The controversial relegations system
remains in place.
Despite the new format, Argentine football remains mired in
problems with crowd violence, clubs in financial difficulties
and the loss of promising young players to foreign clubs.
This, combined with the short championships, has led to a
dramatic leveling out with smaller clubs such as Banfield, Lanus
and Arsenal, the defending champions, all winning the title in
the last five years.
In an attempt to clamp down on violence, the Argentine
government and the AFA announced earlier this week that fans
would be electronically finger-printed as they entered stadiums
for some games.
The government said it would provide a database of finger
prints to help identify troublemakers and keep them out of
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