March 12, 2014
Title deciders mirror championship
For the Herald
Arsenal threw title away... and so did Lanús
BUENOS AIRES — Soccer’s Initial Championship could not have been more exciting right up to the last minute, but it seems Argentine FA (AFA) boss Julio Grondona wants a long, less stressful championship, because he can’t stand the stress. But the final two clashes between the top four were merely a mirror of the season.
In the Vélez Sarsfield versus San Lorenzo scoreless draw, players kept passing the ball to the opposition and although the in-form Vélez — five wins, three draws in the last eight games — were closer to victory in the end after poor form earlier in the tournament, one could rarely seen a worse penalty decision than the one which was not awarded to San Lorenzo. One of their players was grabbed and thrown to the ground in front of goal. It is impossible that the referee and linesmen did not see this. Perhaps Argentine referees have yet to be told that the grabbing of opponents is not allowed.
Some say San Lorenzo won the title by divine right, because the Argentine-born Pope Francis is a great fan of the club. Others say San Lorenzo deserved the title because they were the most stable, least erratic team. This is usually said about champions and perhaps that is the best thing that could be said for them, but it was not true! There was not a single, stable team — certainly not Boca Juniors, who had 61 injuries to players during the year (half of them muscular) and certainly not River Plate, where coach Ramón Díaz changed his team in 24 of his 25 matches.
Visiting team fans were not allowed to attend the matches, as was the case all season, in an incorrect ruling designed to stop violence because authorities either do not know how to or are afraid to tackle the hooligan problem properly. But some visiting team fans got in as usual by paying a higher price as “neutrals.” The “neutrals” at Vélez Sarsfieldcheered loudly as San Lorenzo took to the pitch. Foreigners seeing the decisive match played in a less than full stadium without visiting fans must think we are crazy... and who can blame them?
The general opinion that San Lorenzo is a poor winner because they obtained the lowest ever points total (33) of a champion in a one-round tournament is wrong and only shows how close and exciting it was. But to San Lorenzo’s credit, however, is the rapid transformation of a team which was close to relegation not so long ago, chiefly due to having better than normal club officials.
People have told this columnist that he saw the wrong match. The 2-2 draw between Newell’s Old Boys and Lanús was a lot better. Actually, these were the teams which played the best soccer this year. Lanús embarked on a late title challenge with a run of eight unbeaten games, while Newell’s — who had been leading all season — only picked up five points for the last eight games. What this revealed in the league is the lack of any outstanding team. Newell’s stayed top of the table until almost the end in spite of their slumping form.
It is also interesting to note that Guillermo Barros Schelotto took his first coaching job at Lanús at the start of the 2012-13 season and met with immediate success with a fourth place in that season’s Initial Championship and a second-place finish in the Final Championship. This season Lanús finished second again in the Initial Championship and he has just become the first winner of the South American Cup as a coach and a player (with Boca Juniors). Meanwhile, this season he picked up three players — Silva, Somoza and Acosta — who were not wanted by Boca Juniors and who have gone on to be a success at Lanús. Especially Silva, the leading scorer, who has won titles with the last four clubs he has played for — Banfield, Vélez Sarsfield, Boca Juniors and Lanús.
THE IMPOSSIBLE ‘DOUBLE’
Clubs never manage to win both league and cup titles at the same time for a variety of reasons I’ve mentioned before, but a new reason can be added this season.
When Arsenal won the Copa Argentina earlier this season, the players spent the whole night celebrating. Then they had to face the long journey back to Buenos Aires from Catamarca and less than three days later had to play a league match against Tigre which, on form, they should have won. They lost. Those three points would have put them level at the top with San Lorenzo. This would have resulted in a play-off, and remember that Arsenal beat San Lorenzo 3-0 in the Copa Argentina final.
After Lanús won the South American Cup on Wednesday, the players’ celebrations and drinking went on until past 2am. Three-and-a-half days later, they had to play an off-form Newell’s Old Boys and a win would have also forced a play-off with San Lorenzo for the league title. They drew 2-2 against their rivals which had two weeks’ rest. Professional soccer players are paid to act professionally, but both those of Arsenal and Lanús did not do so.
The day finished with two more deaths which, added to the one which occured during Boca Juniors’ “celebrations” in town earlier in the week. That makes a total of 278 dead due to soccer violence. (Other sources have quoted other figures.) On Sunday night, two Newell’s Old Boys fans returning home were shot by, one believes, Rosario Central fans in Rosario. As in the earlier Boca Juniors case, they were murdered because they were wearing a different club’s shirt from that of the murderers. There is no sense in this, but as mentioned in last Monday’s Sportsworld column, it is hard to teach wild animals anything. They have to be caged.
As I mentioned at the start of this column, the final day was an imperfect mirror of an imperfect championship!