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SPORTS | 28-09-2023 08:20

Cancel your plans... Argentina's famous 'Round of Clásicos' is back

Footballing rivals go head-to-head in the famous ‘Round of Clásicos,’ an invention that ranks right alongside the ballpoint pen, heart transplants and Lionel Messi in the pantheon of great Argentine gifts to the world.

Draw the curtains. Unhook the phone. Cancel all of your plans. Do not answer the door to anyone. This weekend, there is no reason whatsoever to venture away from the television – the 'Round of Clásicos' is back, and it should be one to remember.

It is a gambit that ranks right alongside the ballpoint pen, heart transplants and Lionel Messi in the pantheon of great Argentine gifts to the world. One single football weekend with every team playing their derby rival in quick succession. Forty-eight hours of madness, passion and mayhem played out across the nation, its major cities simultaneously brought to a standstill and divided down the middle. The faint of heart this weekend may want to stick to the Rugby World Cup: this is not for them.

As always, one match in particular takes top billing. Both Martín Demichelis and Jorge Almirón remain at the helm for their second Superclásico on Sunday as River Plate visit La Bombonera to take on Boca Juniors. And while derby success is always paramount for these two sporting titans, it is even more crucial this time round.

Neither Boca nor River have set the world on fire so far in the Copa de la Liga Profesional, losing three and two games respectively of their first six to sit outside of the play-off zone. There are mitigating circumstances: both went into the new competition somewhat distracted by their Libertadores commitments, something which still holds true for the Xeneize as they face their rivals just three days after hosting Palmeiras in Thursday's semi-final first leg. River, moreover, could be excused a slight hangover having romped to success in the league tournament earlier this year. Could, perhaps even should, but the average football mind is not exactly renowned for working on such nuances.

To put it simply, Superclásico defeat for Boca in their own backyard coupled with elimination from the Libertadores would be a double blow that would make Almirón's position very vulnerable indeed, particularly after also losing to River in his first derby back in May. Similarly, defeat for the Millonario would heap pressure on Demichelis, whose somewhat detached manner and curious selection decisions – not to mention a host of dressing room leaks and a disappointing Copa exit – has eroded much of the goodwill garnered by Marcelo Gallardo's successor during his first six months in the job. While the coach does not seem in immediate danger of dismissal, a win on Sunday and subsequent boost in results could be crucial in ensuring he retains his post for 2024 and beyond.

It’s a challenge similar to that faced by Fernando Gago in one of the weekend's other marquee clashes. Racing tumbled out of the Libertadores and Copa Argentina in quick succession and, in spite of leading Group B, need a big win over neighbours Independiente to stave off the doubters and turn a new leaf. Carlos Tevez's Rojo are hardly unmotivated themselves, just ahead of the relegation spots: a situation Gimnasia and Huracán also find themselves in as they look for three points on the road against arch-rivals Estudiantes and San Lorenzo.

But for the most heated clashes of the weekend, one must turn an eye towards Santa Fe Province. Rosario Central and Newell's Old Boys' mutual enmity is well-documented, and the pair could not even manage to play the reserve Clásico due to a feud over supporters' presence for the game last week. Central have already sold out their Gigante del Arroyito home ahead of Saturday's meeting, while Gabriel Heinze has received the 'dreaded vote of confidence' from the Newell's board due to his team's spluttering form. Meanwhile, in Santa Fe, Colón and Unión face off with both teams just one point above the relegation zone and with the unmissable chance to not only take a giant leap towards survival but at the same time leave their adversary in the mire. 

It will make for compelling viewing: just one more reason to clear one's schedule of any distractions prior to this fascinating new tradition of nationwide fraternal hatred.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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