BUENOS AIRES - River Plate fans jeered
the players off, an elderly man died of a heart attack during a
humiliating defeat on Saturday and the team's poor form has
brought the real prospect of relegation for one of the world's
Never have River sunk as low. A 2-1 defeat at home to Lanus
on the final day of the Clausura championship was their seventh
match without a win.
They now face a play-off for their survival
against Nacional B division side Belgrano over two legs away in
Cordoba on Wednesday and at the Monumental next Sunday.
Ninth in the Clausura championship standings, they landed in
this dire situation with a low three-season points average with
which relegation in measured.
The bottom two teams in this
parallel table go down, the next two up face play-offs against
second tier teams seeking promotion.
"You must all go," the fans chanted at the players as they
walked off the pitch under the protection of police shields.
"Not one can stay."
"An unidentified fan died in hospital after suffering a
heart attack during the match," local media quoted Alberto
Crescenti of the emergency medical services as saying.
River are suffering their worst crisis in their 110 years'
existence, far worse than the 18 years they went without a title
between 1958 and 1975. Many times the record 33 times league
champions were runners-up during that bleak period.
They are reaping the bad seeds planted by the previous
eight-year administration of former club president Jose Maria
Aguilar when the brilliant youth scheme that produced the likes
of Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola ran dry and promising
successors were sold off for a quick buck to pay debts.
River's former captain and coach Daniel Passarella won the
presidential election a year and a half ago and has favoured
steering a frugal path, refusing to spend on big-name squad
reinforcements and betting on ex-team-mate JJ Lopez, a man with
poor coaching credentials, to steer the team to safety.
The fans, with little reward for their massive support, are
unlikely to see much change this week, just another last-ditch
putsch against fate by a team far removed from the great
attacking sides that once graced the Monumental.
"This is punishment for those who voted for Passarella,"
said Norberto Alonso, one of River's greatest ever midfielders
and a former team mate of the president and Lopez.
By dropping into the relegation zone River have lost their
place in the Copa Sudamericana, South America's equivalent of
the Europa League, to a team below them in the Clausura
Teams qualify on total points in the season's two
championships, the Apertura in which River finished fourth and
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