Thursday, 28 January 2010

Clausura kick-off

The new season in Argentina kicks off this weekend and it promises to be as wide open as ever. Such is the situation in Argentina with regards to lack of money that anyone who shines brightly enough for the briefest moment is snatched away, either in Brazil or Europe. Huracán went from Clausura runners-up in 2009 to Apertura 2009 basement dwellers as the bigger clubs swooped for the clutch of talented youngsters they put together. Suddenly these players see success and their wage demands rise accordingly, but regional clubs like Huracán simply can't compete in those terms while the big clubs in Argentina can't compete with Brazil and Europe.

Estudiantes and Banfield have been beneficiaries of this phenomenon winning the last two title, Banfield with their first ever in the Apertura 2009. However, the champions will start without their talisman from last season, Santiago Silva. The Uruguayan hitman was on loan with them from Vélez Sársfield and, with the clubs unable to agree a deal for the player, he'll start across the city from where he lifted the trophy where Vélez begin against Colón who faded badly after a great start. Newell's Old Boys were runners-up last time around and it's no coincidence that they had a star striker to propel them there. Joaquin Boghossian is another Uruguayan, but it's not interest from within Argentina that's prising him from his club, but Europe, specifically in the form of Aston Villa who seem keen to recruit from South America despite having their fingers burned not that long ago with Juan Pablo Angel. Estudiantes's challenge fell away as they crammed games in before disappearing to the Middle East to take part in FIFA's mental World Club Championship competition, but they remain one of the strongest outfits in Argentina and will start the Clausura as favourites.

The two big powerhouses are still River Plate and Boca Juniors, but both had poor Aperturas and both look likely to struggle again. River will suffer for the loss of Diego Buonanotte who was injured in a car crash which claimed the lives of three of his friends, but they've been busy in the transfer market. Rodrigo Rojas, a winger, comes in from Olimpia in Paraguay, Alexis Ferrero joins from Colón and Juan Manuel Diaz from Estudiantes. While they'll rely on the old guard, principally Ariel Ortega, big things are expected of teenage strikers Daniel Villalva and Gabriel Funes Mori. They shone in a big win in the Torneo de Verano over their big rivals Boca who approach the start of the season in disarray. That defeat prompted the departure of coach Alfio Basile and sporting director Carlos Bianchi. After initially appointing reserve team coach Abel Alves as an interim manager, the club have given him the role full-time. He'll be starting very much on the back foot with playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme out for their opener against Argentinos Juniors as well as Lucas Viatri and Sebastian Battaglia, who is out long term.

Elsewhere, it's much of a muchness. Racing Club have had a great Torneo de Verano and they typify the topsy-turvy nature of this league. It's very hard to maintain a consistency and Racing have been up and down the league like a grasshopper on a pogo stick. Independiente might be one to keep an eye on as they had a strong finish to the Apertura and San Lorenzo look a capable outfit. However it goes, it's not a league to start placing bets on. Anything can and probably will happen.

The opening weekend's fixtures are:

Argentinos Juniors v Boca Juniors
Atlético Tucumán v San Lorenzo
Godoy Cruz v Gimnasia La Plata
Lanús v Huracán
Newell's Old Boys v Independiente
Racing Club v Rosario Central
River Plate v Banfield
Tigre v Chacarita Juniors
Vélez Sársfield v Colón
Estudiantes v Arsenal

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