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River Plate face play-off anxiety

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Tim Vickery | 07:44 UK time, Monday, 20 June 2011

The playing days of lumbering Argentine striker Martin Palermo were one prolonged battle of a man to overcome his own limitations. Sensing and identifying with the essential nobility of the struggle, the fans of Boca Juniors took him to their hearts.

Palermo's career ended on Saturday on a note of appropriate drama. His last touch as a professional, deep into stoppage time, was a nod down which set up team-mate Christian Cellay to score Boca's equaliser against Gimnasia of La Plata.

To add spice to the occasion, it was an important goal - and not just because Palermo is from La Plata, a fan and an ex-player of Estudiantes, Gimnasia's local rivals.

In a frantic last day of the league season, a win for Gimnasia would mean they would not be one of the two teams to be automatically relegated. Instead they would go into a play-off against the team finishing third in the Second Division - but that late Boca goal worsened their position.

Now they must meet fellow strugglers Huracan, with the losers going down, and the winners earning a chance to save themselves in a play-off against San Martin of San Juan.

Martin Palermo (front) was hugely popular among Boca Juniors supporters - photo: AP

However, it is the other play-off tie which will attract much more attention, because it features River Plate, one of the giants of Argentine football and the team with most league titles to their credit.

This is not supposed to happen. The way that relegation works in Argentina is designed to save the big clubs from a temporary slump. Two short, separate championships are played per year. Relegation is worked out on an average of points accumulated over three years, or six championships.

For a massive club like River Plate, flirting with relegation requires a prolonged period of incompetence - and that is what has happened.

River spent years in administrative chaos, with rumours that the organised gangs of thugs that blight Argentine football were even getting a cut of transfer fees.

Former great Daniel Passarella was elected club president on a clean-up ticket, but he has found that it is not easy to turn a juggernaut around. Conciliating the needs of the long-term and the short-term is never easy in football, especially at a big club in crisis. There is always too much temptation to hit the panic button.

Passarella first went with Angel Cappa as his coach, a fan of the flowing, attacking football that is integral to the club's identity. Results were not encouraging, and so he left and the club took an ill-judged lurch in the opposite direction by replacing him with. River's former midfielder JJ Lopez, who, panic stricken, has been sending out desperately defensive sides - three centre backs, two defensive midfielders, wing backs with little attacking projection.

Responsibility has been unfairly heaped on Eric Lamela, a hugely promising 19-year-old attacking midfielder, who combines well but has had no one to combine with. In 19 games, River have managed just 15 goals.

Such a negative strategy, in addition to being at odds with the history of the club, made no sense whatsoever. A win and a defeat are worth more than two draws, but River ended the season without a win in their last seven games.

For this reason their play-off (away on Wednesday, home on Sunday) against Belgrano of Cordoba is no formality.

Relegation for River Plate would be a huge shock for Argentine football followers - photo: Getty

Belgrano are on a roll, having shrugged off a slow start to shoot up the Second Division table and it promises to be a tense, tight clash, and comes at a moment when the meeting of these teams also takes on symbolic proportions.

Argentine football is historically highly centralised. The title has almost never left Buenos Aires. Estudiantes have established themselves as a force, but La Plata is only an hour's drive from the capital. Elsewhere, there have been a handful of wins each for the Rosario pair, Central and Newells Old Boys, but that is it.

Belgrano's city, Cordoba, is the second biggest in Argentina, but has been astonishingly under-represented in terms of top level footballing success and efforts are being made to change this.

Next month Argentina stages the Copa America, a tournament which is making a conscious attempt to decentralise the game, and only the final will be in Buenos Aires. La Plata will be staging games, taking advantage of a modern stadium in the city, but all the rest is in the provinces.

Cordoba is one of the venues. Another is Santa Fe - a club from the city, Union, won one of the automatic promotion places to the First Division, and the other went to nearby Atletico Rafaela.

Another venue is San Juan, close to the border with Chile, the only host city that has built a new stadium especially for the Copa. As we have seen, the city's representative San Martin have made it through to the play-offs, where they will face the winner of the Gimnasia-Huracan match.

Near San Juan is another Copa venue, Mendoza. Towards the end of last year I wrote a piece abut a club from the city, Godoy Cruz, qualifying for the first time for the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League. Some fears were expressed that they would soon slip back - but although they could not qualify for the knock out phase of the Libertadores, they showed good domestic form, challenging for the title for a while before finishing third.

Their strong showings now give them a real chance to establish themselves on a more permanent basis. Godoy Cruz have so many points on the board that they can plan safe in the knowledge that this time next year they will not be caught up in the relegation dogfight.

There is a chance, then, that the map of Argentine football is going through a significant modification. Buenos Aires will continue to hold sway - the well-run Velez Sarsfield club underlined the point by winning the title in style - but the capital is not going to have everything its own way.

Even Boca Juniors might have to look over their shoulder. A very poor next 12 months would drop them in the same quicksand that River Plate have been wading through. In a year's time Boca may even be grateful for that point they snatched right at the end against to Gimnasia with the aid of Martin Palermo's last touch.

Comments on the piece in the space below. Questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) I have heard stories of Liverpool being linked with a £9m move for Lucas Moura. From what I have heard Sao Paulo rate him at £70m. I saw him for a bit against Scotland and he was pretty impressive, I was just wondering how good he is.
William Lloyd

A) As you mentioned, his buy out clause is huge, so Liverpool or anyone else will have to shell out much more than £9m to land him - and I would probably go on the side of caution and think that a big money move would be premature.
He is talented and making progress. He's a wonderfully incisive dribbler and his finishing is improving, including snap shots from range, but it is still early days.

There will be a chance to see him next month in the Copa America. I'm in a tiny minority, but I'm not sure about his selection - I wonder if it might have been better for him to go to the World Youth Cup, which kicks off in Colombia at the end of July. With no Neymar in that side, Lucas would be the leader of the attack and would be obliged to develop his collective play.


  • Comment number 1.

    This is what happens when you change your manager every 5 minutes

  • Comment number 2.

    What happened to the River Plate that was producing players like Aimar, Saviola, Mascherano, Higuain, Cavenaghi, Demichelis, D'Alessandro, Solari, Crespo, Ortega, and Caniggia?

    I used to get the impression that there was a string of talented youngsters at River, and as one went on to better things another would come along in a year or so to replace the one that left. But in the last few years this doesn't seem to be the case. Buananotte had some potential, but he's gone now, is there a new generation of youngsters who might show some talent?

  • Comment number 3.

    I reckon if River do somehow go down, the Argentinian FA will flip flop until they somehow reprieve them by changing the format of the championship. Surely, though River, and indeed Argentinian football in general, might benefit from having a system of direct relegation. In other leagues, especially in Brazil - a relegation allows teams to start afresh and completely rebuild the club top down. A spell in the second division might be the jab needed to wake River up.

  • Comment number 4.


    Any standout players of that Velez Sarsfield team we should look out for? I have a soft spot for them after watching them beating Milan in the 1994 Intercontinental cup. Even then I knew their keeper Chilavert was a madman!


    I agree entirely. Its a very strange system they have with the average over 3 seasons. I think it may have the effect that clubs always think they have time to get out of it until its to late.

    On the other hand as Tim says, the fact Godoy cruz did so well means they can plan next year without the threat of relegation.

  • Comment number 5.


    Velez have an array of great attacking players, and play good football. Which is nice to see in comparison with how the big clubs seem to be playing at the moment.

    A few names of interest from velez, Santiago Silva, el tanque they call him, an absolute battering ram of a striker, and a bit crazy to boot)) id love to see him at my club. Also maxi moralez, juan martin martinez, ricky alvarez, augusto fernandez and david ramirez.

  • Comment number 6.

    HAving seen the Brazilliant U20 World Cup squad, where only 2 european based Brazilians have made the squad, does this mean that the Brazilian coach prefers home based players to the plethora playing abroad? or are those that stay at home at the younger age rather than move to Europe helld in higher regard?

  • Comment number 7.

    'This is not supposed to happen. The way that relegation works in Argentina is designed to save the big clubs from a temporary slump. Two short, separate championships are played per year. Relegation is worked out on an average of points accumulated over three years, or six championships.'

    What a crazy way to run football. I wonder if the Chairmen of the top clubs in England like a system which ensures their survival in the Top Flight? But River Plate are demonstrating that even the kings of the game will one day surely fall - take note all you Man U fans.

  • Comment number 8.


    Why do you think Kleber from Palmeiras is never called up for the Selecao? Weaker players than him have been called, such as André (unexplainable), Damiao and etc

  • Comment number 9.

    Really wonder what will happen if River end up in the relegation position. Place your bets now:

    A) a team give up their promotion position due to 'irregularities'
    B) a team go bust in the same division so River dont need to go down.
    C) will it be prevented from happening by the ref
    D) opposition team takes a dive allowing River to win to save themselves.

    To an outsider, it seems such a crazy system. Does this relegation method add to the excitement of the game? Do fans like it, or is it purely a system to stop the big guns getting relegated?

  • Comment number 10.


    I dont know if i can speak for all fans of futbol argentino, but i hate the relegation system. Its so unfair for teams coming up from the B, before a ball has even been kicked they are at a disadvantage. Football should be a level playing field, teams shouldnt be made to play with such a handicap.

    I cant remember which team it was, maybe tigre? but a couple of years ago a team got relegated, despite over the apertura and clausure they finished no lower than 15th!! So over the season there are 5 teams worse than them, yet they go down? In order to not be relegated, a team doesnt just have to finish outside the bottom four, they almost have to be in the top half. Can you imagine blackpool having to finish 10th to avoid relegation here?

    Its madness.

  • Comment number 11.


    The above post was meant for 9#, it seems im replying to myself now))

  • Comment number 12.

    "What a crazy way to run football. I wonder if the Chairmen of the top clubs in England like a system which ensures their survival in the Top Flight? But River Plate are demonstrating that even the kings of the game will one day surely fall - take note all you Man U fans."

    I think you're misinterpreting why the league is set up that way. It's not to stop big clubs from going down if they deserve to. It's because top clubs have top young players and there were instances where someone like River would be running away with the league in January, only to have big european clubs come in and steal all their best players away. This then results in them dropping like a stone down the table

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks for the Geography lesson Tim. Don't know how seriously to take them, but there are rumours Tevez will be allowed to rejoin Boca in 2 years time on a free transfer from City in return for a further 2 years of penance in Manchester. And it sounds like Carlos isn't the only one with domestic issues. Seems like Bielsa has turned down the Inter job because of similar pressures. I wonder if we'll ever see the day where South Americans won't need to come to Europe to make their fortunes, let alone Europeans go the other way. Despite the wealth of talent SA already produces, the centralisation of football that you depict there suggests there is still a vast amount of untapped potential in the provinces, so you imagine the Copa coming to town only being a step in the right direction. I haven't been to SA, but I guess the size and topography of the place makes decentralisation more tricky than in Europe.

  • Comment number 14.

    To be fair they've gone downhill ever since Andy Dean got his hands on them and were defeated to the title by the mighty Boca!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    Surely it's time for FIFA to have standardised League formats for all that can't be fudged e.g. any team number but you play home and away an equal amount of times in one season and the bottom 2-3 go up/down.

    When you play older Championship Manager's there's a Yugoslavian player (I'm guessing he was Serbian) that played for Flamengo. I'm suprised that a European would go to South America but fair play to going away to get regular 1st team football - the issue is that if you went to play there you'd want certain guarentee's that you'd come back aline and your family wouldn't be kidnapped.

  • Comment number 16.


    Dejan petkovic if I mind right. Im sure at 37 Tim had said he was the best player in the league!

    I wish south Americans would stay there. I want to be wowed at a world cup by some brazlian i know nothing about, not the ones i watch every week in epl/la liga/serie a

  • Comment number 17.

    Very poorly written article.

  • Comment number 18.

    Grandfalconrailroad, theres no point FIFA trying to implement a standardised league format, as the Premier League will soon be bringing up its "39th game" nonsense. Its inevitable, greed rules.

  • Comment number 19.

    17. - Stop trolling. If you can do better, I suggest you do just that.

    I actually think this system works quite well in Argentina. 'Different horses for different courses' as they say. It wouldn't work in most European countries, but in places where the cream of the crop get plundered by the big European leagues, you need some kind of back-up system that allows clubs a chance to rebuild.
    It's not perfect, but it makes sense to me. As someone previously commented, if Boca/River/Instituto/whoever were flying high after the apertura, they would probably lose most of their talent during the January transfer window. Hardly fair either.

  • Comment number 20.

    #17 what a lazy remark to make, when you can't even be bothered to include a justification for typing that.

    I think it would be more reasonable to say... "Very poorly written post by #17".

  • Comment number 21.

    Care to explain JKdeB - just saying it doesn't inform Tim about how to better please you while you mop up Aisle 3.

    Very poor comment.

    Another great article Tim.. Thanks

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    Check out 22's history. He seems to like making remarks to inflame. Don't feed his attention-seeking behavior.

  • Comment number 24.

    The situation at River couldn't really be any worse. Passarella was welcomed with a fanfare but he has gone on to disappoint in every facet of his job. He has let his personal relationships with people affect his judgement, such as turning down the chance to bring Ramon Diaz back to the club for no other reason than that he doesn't like him. Cappa was appointed off the back of a stellar performance with Huracan but once results and performances dropped below acceptable standards he was sent packing. He then had another opportunity to bring in Diaz but instead opted for the terribly defensive minded JJ who just happens to be a close personal friend.

    And then there are the signings and tactics. Every single one of Passarella's signings have failed miserably in part due to a complete lack of ability but also down to JJ's inability to select based on strengths. It is rumoured that Mauro Camoranesi wanted to sign for River on a contract worth 50% less than Paulo Ferrari's, any other President would have bitten his arm off for that offer, but not Daniel......

    During the game with Lanus this past weekend JJ wouldn't allow the centre backs to attack corners, the 2 best headers of a ball were sacrificed in attacking positions because JJ plays for 0-0 religiously, regardless of whether or not those 2 extra points would save the club from relegation. As it happens we lost anyway. This is but one example of the complete and utter incompetence displayed by a manager who most likely won't be replaced due to his relationship with his boss, and make no mistake about it, keeping JJ is detrimental to River. 100%.

    The youth teams are still ticking over well despite the reserves 3-1 loss to Boca recently. If you look at the under 16's mini Cop America, River are represented by more players than any other team with some stars in that team who are already been talked about with high regard by the 1st team staff.

    Financially things couldn't be worse, rumour has it that Ortega hasn't been paid for 2 years and is owed 2,000,000 Pesos but isn't persuing the money due to his love for the club. Transfer and loan fees haven't been paid and current first team members risk being lost on free transfers because they haven't been paid for months on end. Relegation will hardly help matters either. And speaking of relegation, how will the Argentine government feel about losing River Plate after they effectively bought out the television rights last year. Do not discount their influence should the worst happen.......

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    LOL Media Man UK. Or at least i would if it was funny.

    Attention seeking? No just prepared to have an opinion that is different from the usual.

  • Comment number 27.

    Personally, I think relegation could be good for River. It would lower expectations for a while, which would give them time to get their house in order. It's happened many times across the globe where a 'giant' falls from grace only to come back stronger. Of course, it's not so great of your club isn't so big...

  • Comment number 28.

    @ Weezer316 - cheers for that dude. He was excellent on Champ Man - I signed him a few times and it was really hard as you had to satisfy the Work Permit rules.

    I've always wondered if the MSI thing worked out properly that if Kia J. signed up mid-ranking Championship & PL players then maybe we'd see English/GB players going to South America e.g. Kevin Nolan off to Boca Juniors or Shola Ameobi playing for Colo Colo.

  • Comment number 29.

    The Argentinian way of running the league there is pretty crazy! It all seems a bit strange being able to "take it easy" for one season if you've exceeded in the previous season or so to not be relegated or lose out on winnning the championship.

  • Comment number 30.

    I've seen River 3 or 4 times recently, and they're a terribly disjointed team. As Tim says, it's 7 in defence, and 3 up top, too far away from the 7.

    And despite their defensiveness, I don't even think they're that great at defending. They seemed to struggle whenever the ball was near their goal, and Carrizo behind them is hardly convincing.

    Lamela seems talented, but he was too often trying to do things by himself, perhaps because of the system. I've got no idea about the strength of Belgrano, but River seem easy to stop scoring, and aren't convincing in defence. The unthinkable could happen.

  • Comment number 31.

    I watched Colo Colo over in Santiago, several times recently, and they are doing exactly the same thing as River. The coach, Gallego, is packing the team with defensive midfielders and they are simply not scoring. It's a crazy idea. They were in the bottom half of the table for quite sometime.

  • Comment number 32.

    I have also watched River a few times this season and bizarely the only good performance i watched them put in was when the went down to 10 men away at Racing.

    Against Lanus they were out of ideas after what seemed like the first 20 mins, and resulted in mindless balls thrown up to the strikers. I really felt sorry for Lemala, i think he is a great prospect in a very poor team. Lanus always looked more composed and threatening in the final third and scored 2 good goals.

    Tim, do you think the quality of the Argentinian league has dropped considerably over the past few seasons? With the execption of Velez there has been very little quality throughout, including the big Buenos Aries teams Boca, Racing and especially San Lorenzo.

    Personally i hope River stay up, i've been keeping an eye on them since the won the Libratadores with D'Alessandro & company and they were the first team i visited when i was in South America.

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    River Plate has the biggest stadium in Argentina, they have the second largest fanbase in Argentina, they should be able to challenge for the title often and have a better record in Copa Libertadores (remember 5 Argentinian teams qualify). They should be able to buy players from smaller Argentinian (and Uruguayan, Chilean, Paraguayan, Colombian) clubs and re-sell them at a profit to Europe. If they have been terribly mismanaged for many years now and deserve what they won't have since they will defeat Belgrano: Relegation. The golden 1995-2000 years with many titles and great attacking football are just a nice memory.

  • Comment number 35.


    7 in defence, 3 up top! This sounds like Mourinho haha!

  • Comment number 36.

    I said in comment 34 that River will defeat Belgrano over two legs, and I would not be surprised if the referee makes a crucial "mistake" or two which helps River in the end. But, it would be very very funny if they indeed go down and Gimnasia or Huracan stays in Primera.

  • Comment number 37.

    Another brilliant article, cheers Tim. Can't wait for the Copa! It would be rather ironic to see Los Millonarios being relegated, changed days...

    JKdeB - what on earth are you gibbering on about? I would say the thread is Argentinian football? Unless I've missed something, blogs are not usually written to a high literary standard - and Tim's is usually better than most.

    Where else could you get an update on the latest happenings in the Argentinian league, as well as a pre-cursor to the forthcoming Copa America? The obvious link being Argentina. If you had an interest in these things you would not be disappointed. Toddle off.

  • Comment number 38.

    it looked like and i'd hoped that this blog would be about Martin Palermo. He had his limitations yes, in comparison to other Argentinian strikers but had he been English, he would have been heralded as the next Dixie Dean or Sir Tom Finney.

    He was physical, but dominant and bagged goals. In his peak he would have topped the scoring charts consistently had he played in the Premier League.

    This article does the guy a disservice, and glosses over what was a very successful career. I even believe in 2002 withut his injury, he could have spearheaded an argentinian attack

  • Comment number 39.

    I don't like the playoff system - why can't they just play a straight knock out game like everyone else

  • Comment number 40.

    I've always seen Boca Juniors as a teams who likes to buy lots of players and then teaching them the mystique of playing for Boca (much like Real Madrid) and River Plate as a club who like to grow their own players with a style of playing (like Barcelona). The thing is Boca hasn't been lucky with the players acquired recently and River, due to financial struggles, has sold its players at a very young age, not letting them play at their full potential for La Banda.

    One question Tim, how come Hulk has never been called to the Brazilian national squad? Is there a problem with the the coach?

  • Comment number 41.

    I`ve came across this blog only a couple of weeks ago and I must say I`m surprised on how Tim comes to interpretate what is going on around here right now. As a Boca fan from the cradle, I am really enjoying River's failure to rise up. Living only ten blocks away from the Monumental, I can assure that their fans never returned in such silence and despair. We will miss the Superclasico but they are right where they deserve to be. Greetings to all from Argentina.

  • Comment number 42.

    I've attacked the Argentine system of relegation in the past, and while it is strange it does have one big virtue - there is no such thing as a dead game, because, like footballing squirrels, you're always storing up points for future use.

    The Brazilian league has had a real problem in the last couple of seasons - teams appearing to lose on purpose, with their supporters encouraging them to do this, when a defeat would worsen the position of a local rival - this season the big derbies are being played at the end of the campaign in an effort to cut down on this - thinking being that no way will a club 'throw' a local derby.

  • Comment number 43.

    So earlier I posted "Structurally the article is poorly written flow, no thread just lots of facts thrown together" which was my view. I am allowed one. And yet it was removed for breaking house rules. Can the BBC not accept criticism.

  • Comment number 44.


    I can't understand why this team is struggling when they have players like Lamela, Funes Mori and Buonanotte. Their side looks pretty good compared to some other Argentinean sides.

  • Comment number 45.

    Hi Tim

    I'm not completely formally with the Brazilian or South America leagues, but I do enjoy reading your blogs each week, especially when you comment on falling stars and you interpretation of why this has happened, (Robinho, Ronaldinho etc.)

    My question is regarding the relegation system, you say it is bad but surely there must be some benefits. My argument is that if such as system where in place in this country then maybe newly promoted teams would have a better chance of staying up. Blackpool for example, if the worst 3 teams over two seasons was relegated then maybe newly promoted teams after setting out their stool in the first season would have a chance to get in some new players (maybe a new manager) and know they have a real chance of staying up. Players don't want to move to a team they feel will go straight back down again, but may fancy their chances over two seasons.

    Maybe I’ve got completely the wrong idea about how this works.

  • Comment number 46.

    actually JKdeB_, it was removed because I complained about it..

    the system works..

  • Comment number 47.

    43 - i have no part or say in comments being removed and i'm more than happy to be criticized - though i do always reserve the right to fire back!

    this week's piece is not an orthodox blog in terms of the amount of ground it attempts to cover, but the flow and structure are clear

    -in on Palermo's last touch and its significance to the relegation battle
    - on to the most high profile aspect of that relegation battle, River Plate's involvement
    - brief attempt to explain the above
    - examination of the extent to which this reflects a new decentralisation of argentine football
    - ending back with palermo's last touch and its potential importance for the other big traditional giant from the capital.

    possibly over ambitious for the scope of a single blog, but clear structure and flow.

  • Comment number 48.

    There is one reason, and one reason alone why the standard of football at River, Boca and in Argentina in general is suffering: the Argentine economy. The clubs simply cannot afford to pay the transfer fees or wages that the clubs in Europe can. I'm an AFC Bournemouth fan living in BsAs and having been to watch River play several times this season and I can only say that at present they wouldn't fair too well against the Cherries.

  • Comment number 49.

    @43 - Ha that told you!

  • Comment number 50.

    tim, your thoughts on joao haveleange's FIFA legacy please?

    arnold, marton

  • Comment number 51.

    @6 I really think it's more a fact that at present, there just aren't that many U20 Brazilians playing abroad. With the increasing buying power of Brazilian clubs, they're holding onto their youngsters until 21 or 22. I really can't thing of many. In fact, Ze Eduardo (plays at Parma), who was on the South American U20 roster was cut from the team -- although he was replaced with another Euro-based player, Hoffenheim's Roberto Firmino.

    With respect to Lucas, I do feel that it's really a toss-up. The U20 midfield definitely loses a great talent with his promotion to the senior team. On the other hand, the midfield for the U20 World Cup is quite good - Coutinho, Oscar, and Firmino could make a good trio. The national team, on the other hand, could really use some creativity. We don't know how Ganso will be. And the other guys, like Jadson, don't really inspire much confidence in me. So, Lucas could definitely get a shot, either as Ganso's reserve (although the formation would change a bit), or as Neymar/Robinho's substitute on the wing.

  • Comment number 52.

    'Oy, Timbo, are you aware the truncated version of this blog ends with you referring to the Gimnasia and Huracan play-off, leaving the distinct impression your River Plate play-off headline's a misleading device to draw in the punters?

    Now I've followed you long enough to know you're incapable of such fakery - your soy sauce 'tan' being the only possible exception - but I can imagine a lot of punters not bothered to comment or read the comments going elsewhere with a completely false impression you're some kind of sleazy tabloid wan'o be.

    Apropos the people criticising this particular blog for other reasons, I found it a cogent, coherent and compelling diagnostic of what's wrong with Argentinian domestic football in particular and a warning to other parts of the world to avoid thinking of pursuing the same protectivist policies.

  • Comment number 53.

    45. No, you are at a disadvantage when promoted. It's worked out over a points average over the past 3 seasons in the top flight. If you've only played one season in the top flight, you can still be relegated.


    Quilmes have played one season so 08-09 = 0; 09-10 = 0; 10-11 = 39. This means 39 points over 38 games gives them an average of 1.026 per game. Qilmes finished 16th (of 20) in the Apetura and 17th in the Clausera

    River Plate have played three seasons so 08-09 = 41; 09-10 = 43; 10-11 =57. They finish 4th from bottom in the relegation table, meaning a play-off match with the team in 3rd in the second division

    It's complicated, but if you have a bad first season, you will go down. It only covers you if you manage to hit the ground running and have a good first season.

  • Comment number 54.

    Not only did Palermo an ex Estudiantes player set up the goal which brought Gimnasia even with Huracan forcing their one game playoff to see who gets directly relegated and who goes to the promotion playoff vs San Martin de San Juan but Boca's goal was scored by Cristian Cellay, also an ex Estudiantes player and one who was formed at Huracan, so Cellay helped his old Huracan club with that goal and like Palermo got one over his ex club Estudiantes' great rival.

    Tim is absolutely right that River's promotion playoff with Belgrano is anything but a formality. River have been playing scared, it is not just JJ Lopez' incredibly conservative tactics, but the body langauge of his players is just not right and they have been gripped by fear of falling into the Promo (promotion playoffs.) Now that they are there, the question is how will they react? River only earned 4 points from it's final 7 league games while Belgrano ended the season pretty well in the Nacional B (2nd Division.) By the way in case of an aggregate tie in the Promo, the tiebreaker is not away goals but the First Division team gets the benefit of the doubt and stays up.

    If River do get relegated it will not be easy getting back up either, just ask Rosario Central! lol

    Soccer Futbol Forum:

  • Comment number 55.

    I have also watched River a few times this season and bizarely the only good performance i watched them put in was when the went down to 10 men away at Racing.

    Against Lanus they were out of ideas after what seemed like the first 20 mins, and resulted in mindless balls thrown up to the strikers. I really felt sorry for Lemala, i think he is a great prospect in a very poor team. Lanus always looked more composed and threatening in the final third and scored 2 good goals.

    Tim, do you think the quality of the Argentinian league has dropped considerably over the past few seasons? With the execption of Velez there has been very little quality throughout, including the big Buenos Aries teams Boca, Racing and especially San Lorenzo.

    Personally i hope River stay up, i've been keeping an eye on them since the won the Libratadores with D'Alessandro & company and they were the first team i visited when i was in South America.

  • Comment number 56.

    Nick, D'Alessandro never won the Copa Libertadores with River, he won three league titles with River (in 2000, 2002 and 2003) but River's last Libertadores title was in 1996. And what a team did they have in 1996 with Crespo, Francescoli, Ortega and Ayala plus one connection to the current team, Matias Almeyda. That might have been the best team in the world in 1996 but unfortunately by the time they played European champions Juventus in the Intercontinental Cup late in 1996, Crespo, Almeyda and Ayala had all been sold to European clubs. And River lost 1-0 to Juventus in the 1996 final played in Tokyo.

    Like most River teams, that 1996 championship squad was remembered for it's stylish attacking play but as Tim mentions in his article that play is now a thing of the past. JJ Lopez the current coach is one of the club's legendary players, 4th all time in appearances and one of the better #8, (two way midfielders) in Argentine history, but his dire, defensive tactics have been the downfall of the current team and a big reason why they are now playing for their first division survival.

  • Comment number 57.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 58.

    Correction to my previous post, it was the Paraguayan Celso Ayala, a pretty good centerback in his own right on the 1996 Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup teams from River and not Roberto Ayala who left River the season before to sign with Napoli.

  • Comment number 59.

    Argentina is corrupt, totally and utterly.

    Don't worry, Tim. The fix is in.

    River Plate will not go down.

  • Comment number 60.

    I am looking forward to seeing Boca Juniors when they play in the Emirates Cup at Arsenal's next month,shame no Palermo! El Clasico will not be the same game again!

  • Comment number 61.

    I saw River lose at home to Godoy Cruz earlier in the season, but they were the better team, and after five or six games, this was their first defeat, and they were challenging for top spot. I left Argentina shortly after, so am surprised to have seen them plummet. Has it been a gradual decline, a loss of confidence, or what?

    Someone mentioned Buonanotte in an earlier post. First impression was that he was a terrific little player, with great feet. So I paid close attention to him during the game. Unless the game against Godoy Cruz was an anomaly (Tim, thoughts?), he has horrific distribution! Time and again he would get the ball, show some nice skills and then... give it away. Walter Acevedo and Erik Lamela both looked better all round players.

    Is it acceptable to go to the Emirates for the Arsenal-Boca game wearing a River shirt?

  • Comment number 62.

    I think the relegation system is totally unfair, if a team like Quilmes doesn't do well in the Apertura, they'll have to go much better in the Clausura, and each loss is much worse for them than for teams with more seasons in the Primera (because the promedio will be calculated over only 38 games) - obviosuly, a win is also worth a lot, but that means they must do ridiculously well like someone already said before. surely it won't change any time soon, but as a neutral it is annoying to see Olimpo finishing 4th in the Clausura, but their reality was to fight for survival.

    about relegation & calendar, here in Brazil it wasn't only about relegation. last year, a Palmeiras player scored a magnificent goal which was booed by their own fans. Fluminense was battling for the title against Corinthians, Palmeiras rivals, so Palmeiras fans were booing their own team so they'd lose.

  • Comment number 63.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 64.

    Calling Marin Palermo a lumbering Argentine does not do credit his long career at the top of South American football. After Maradona is he Bocas 2nd most loved player, maybe. I had hope you would do an article on his long and interesting career that many readers would find more interesting than the content of the actual article.

  • Comment number 65.

    Ref post 59 - sadly you are right, there is so much corruption in Argentina, and now we read that even those most loved 'Mad Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo' have been involved in the disappearance of millions of dollars - but then they did employ 2 convicted convicts to run their acounts!! But I would put a lot of money on River staying up as surely the infamous FIFA Vice-President Mr. Grondona could not allow them to be relegated.
    Tim, do you think that the Copa America is going to be well organized and why are there so few games being played in Buenos Aires? Will the Countries field their best teams or their young players as they have in the past?

  • Comment number 66.

    A friend of mine pointed this out to me,

    If relegation was only determined by the Apertura 2010 and Clausura 2011 seasons, instead of using three years worth of results, Huracan and Gimnasia would be the two clubs being automatically relegated, Quilmes would take one promotion playoff spot and I am sorry to say this but Newell's would have been where River are now, as the last team in the promotion playoffs. Independiente would have escaped that by 1 point. And River? 15 points ahead of Newell's in the past year! River paid the price for two poor years in 08-90 and 09-10 (not to mention their late season collapse this tournament.)

  • Comment number 67.

    #65 The whole idea is NOT to play in Buenos Aires to try and decentralise game as Tim mentions in post. All the CONMEBOL teams are taking full strength sides, as this is a perfect way to warm up before WC Qualifiers in October. The only teams that will come with weakend squads are the two invited teams from CONCACAF - Mexico and Costa Rica, they're bringing U23 sides with a handful of older players - effectively Olympic squads.

  • Comment number 68.

    great article Tim. Can we compare La Plata-BsAs with Santos-São Paulo?

    anyway, I was not aware that teams from Rosario had got so few titles. And I was even less aware that Cordoba was so weak in football.

  • Comment number 69.


    I think Cleber is really good, but he had temper problems that could get him in trouble. It seems he calmed a bit now... if he can keep his temper down, he might get in the Seleção soon I think. We are still a bit traumatized by Felipe Melo´s temper and what he caused us in the Word Cup...

    Kleber = brazilian Rooney

  • Comment number 70.

    @Tim 42: Tim, do you think this system of derbies at the last match is a good idea? At least it seems to me... Grêmio would never throw away a derby to Inter (even more if its Inter who has a shot at the title).

    in São Paulo and Rio its more complicated however... wouldnt REALLY Corinthians throw away a derby against Palmeiras if it impeached São Paulo of getting another title?

    I had never thought this way of the Argentine system... storing points for other seasons where they might be important (while they may not be anymore in the current season).

    Can you think of a system mixing the best of both worlds? Making every match important for storing "fat" (points) for the "winter" (bad seasons), while at the same time protecting big clubs from relegation because of ONE bad season (quite common in S.American football with all the player sellings to Europe), and at the same time, not making life so difficult for promoted clubs from Serie B (like an argentine just mentioned, a club promoted from Serie B needs to classify in the top half of the table in his first Serie A season, otherwise it goes back to B!)

  • Comment number 71.

    Premier Sports on sky 433 will show both legs of the River Plate game

  • Comment number 72.

    Kleber will not be selected for Brazil because he is not Mano's mate! I personally would love to see Diego Souza of Vasco play for Brazil again, however, I am only dreaming. What are peoples opinions of the following players??? Lucas of Sao Paulo, Marlos of Sao Paulo, Neto Berola of Atletico Mineiro and Maicon Leite of Santos all these players have impressed me over the last 12 months.

  • Comment number 73.

    The common held belief is that using the system of promedios (the average points per season over a 3 year period) helps the big clubs and that likely was the intent behind creating this relegation system but as a River supporting friend of mine pointed out, in fact that has hurt River as while they had several mediocre years they never had a poor year and never finished below 15th in a 20 team league during a combined year of Apertura and Clausura play during the three years the promedios were used to determine that they have to play the promotion playoff this year.

    Here is what my River supporting friend noted:

    "In 2008-2009, River finished with 41 points. There were 5 teams that finished below that total (Gimnasia de Jujuy, San Martin de Tucuman, Central, Independiente, and Argentinos Juniors)

    In 2009-2010, River finished with 43 points. This time, 6 teams finished below us. (Chacarita, Atletico Tucuman, Gimnasia La Plata, Huracan, and Tigre)

    In 2010-2011, River finished with 57 points. No fewer than 14 finished below us. (Quilmes, Huracan, Gimnasia La Plata, Tigre, Olimpo, Racing, Independiente, All Boys, Colon, Boca, San Lorenzo, Newell's, Argentinos, Banfield) Plus we finished level on points with Arsenal.

    So under an aggregate system, River would never face played the promocion... Under the promedios, here we are. The reason is because each victory for the promoted teams is worth more because they're points total is divide by fewer games.

    Despite the fact that I would give anything not to play the promocion, I think the promedios make the futbol much more interesting here in Argentina. Where else in the world would we see the last day, last second drama with 5 games at once as we saw here. No where. "

    An interesting set of facts and one which flys in the face of the common held belief that the promedios system helps big clubs.

  • Comment number 74.

    Las Gallinas are about top gety BBQ'd! Fantastic!

  • Comment number 75.

    What are all of these ridiculous, insinuating comments suggesting that River may get favourable treatment in their promotion playoff.

    Why do so many people automatically assume that these South American leagues must be crooked and corrupt ? It's pure xenophobia.

    The only thing, in terms of relegation, which differs between Argentina and other leagues is the 3-year rolling points totals.

    I don't personally agree with that, but it's the same for all teams.

    The playoff between the 3rd/4th bottom teams in the top division and the 3rd/4th placed teams in the second division, is very common practice throughout top leagues in Europe, South America and beyond.

    That playoff system occurs in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and Belgium.

    River Plate should probably beat Belgrano, but that won't stop the conspiracy theorists from attempting to glean something more nefarious from the playoff matches.

    In reality, the English equivalent this season would be Wolves playing against Cardiff.

  • Comment number 76.

    River's relegation playoff, should I say. ;)

    It's a promotion playoff for Belgrano.


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