Saturday, December 2, 2023

SPORTS | 20-09-2023 23:21

Buckle up, Argentina's relegation dogfight is going to be one wild ride

Argentina’s relegation battle is becoming a dizzying roller-coaster ride, week by week.

While the race to clinch one of the eight Copa de la Liga Profesional play-off spots has only just begun, the most intriguing battle in the top flight right now is between the teams in its lower reaches. And if you feel like every single round is throwing up relegation six-pointers, you would be right.

Whether by accident or design (as the more conspiratorially minded would hold), the drawing of the two Copa Liga groups had one curious outcome: almost all of the various sides fighting tooth and nail to beat the drop found themselves in Group A. Of the bottom 10 teams in the annual table no fewer than seven are clustered together in that zone, giving almost every game a life or death feel even with plenty of the competition still to run.

That lopsided scheduling has led to the relegation battle becoming a dizzying roller-coaster ride week by week. Huracán and Independiente have already taken three wins each from their fellow strugglers to fly up the standings, moving away from trouble after extremely poor showings in the league portion of this confusing two-part Argentine football season.

Conversely, Gimnasia saw a five-point cushion at the start of this Copa evaporate thanks to four straight defeats, three of which came at the hands of clubs deep in that relegation dogfight. The La Plata club now occupy that dreaded penultimate spot in the annual table which will ensure a trip to the Primera Nacional next season (last-placed Arsenal are all but condemned due to also sitting bottom of the average points standings), though still just a single point behind Colón and Huracán – two of those teams who have got the better of the Lobo so far in this tournament, just to demonstrate how crucial all of these games at the bottom have proved.

It is not over by a long shot. Five points separate 27th-placed Gimnasia from Sarmiento in 17th, meaning almost half the league must still maintain a nervous look over its proverbial shoulder in the weeks to come. To neutrals' delight, and the dread of all those with an emotional stake in this business there will be no let up in the grudge matches, either. This weekend alone sees Vélez visit Huracán and Instituto host Independiente, an acid test for Carlos Tevez's much-improved team the week before taking on Avellaneda arch-rivals Racing Club in a Clásico they cannot afford to lose. Buckle up: this is going to be one wild ride.


Will the real Boca please stand up?

They are Copa Libertadores semi-finalists, Argentina's only remaining interest in the competition. They also, even while securing qualification for the last four, went five games without victory, scoring just twice in that same run against second-tier Almagro. The continental powerhouses who even with Edinson Cavani in their line-up can barely buy a goal, let alone a win: so, who are the real Boca Juniors?

The Xeneize did at least enjoy a welcome return to form on Tuesday in Santiago del Estero, crushing Central Córdoba 3-0 to the delight of thousands of 'neutrals' permitted to purchase tickets for the clash. But the big test for Jorge Almirón's men looms large this week in the shape of Palmeiras, winner of two of the last three Libertadores and their opponents in Thursday's first leg in the Bombonera.

It would be folly to write Boca off, particularly given their knack of grinding out results even when the performance has been lacking. But what was good enough to (just) slip by Nacional and Racing in the previous rounds may well prove insufficient against an opponent of Palmeiras' calibre, and the team will need to step up if they are to retain hopes of that elusive seventh Copa Libertadores crown this year.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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