On Wednesday Boca Juniors and River Plate locked horns in the latest Superclásico, this time playing for the privilege of advancing to the quarter-finals of the Copa Argentina. Despite the presence of Argentina's two most fearsome rivals, though, it was difficult to raise even the slightest enthusiasm for proceedings over 90 agonising minutes of so-called 'football.'
Perhaps it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt. This was the third time the sides have clashed already in 2021, and in a few short weeks they will do it all over again in the league. Or maybe the continued absence of fans continues to take the shine of this showpiece fixture. But even if the Boca and River faithful had been present in La Plata's Estadio Único to see the Xeneize go through on penalties, you feel that there would have been more stifled yawns than cheers as the teams wore each other down in a soporific 0-0 draw prior to the shoot-out.
The concerning fact is that such games, even involving the nation's biggest sides, have become all too common. Take Boca, for instance. The Xeneize's disciplinary and personnel issues in recent weeks notwithstanding, they have now clocked 270 minutes of competitive action without mustering a single shot on goal: back-to-back scoreless draws with Talleres and River following the kids' 2-0 defeat to San Lorenzo. That run unsurprisingly sees Miguel Ángel Russo's men stalking the lower reaches of the Liga Profesional table, but even at the summit the story is much the same.
Joint-leaders Independiente and Racing Club, who pit their wits against each other in tomorrow's Clásico de Avellaneda, have made their way to the top despite subjecting fans to a most cautious, speculative brand of football, one in which control of the ball, let alone incursions into the opposition penalty area, have been largely incidental to the pair's overall game-plan.
It has proved effective – Juan Antonio Pizzi's Racing have picked up eight points despite netting just three times, the same tally as Julio César Falcioni's Independiente with four goals and San Lorenzo, top scorers among the trio having scored a mighty five – but it makes for wholly uninspiring viewing. Aside from River, few teams in Primera promise much in the way of spectacle; the most telling evidence of this issue might be the fact that leading the way in the scoring charts is Lanús hitman José Sand, a cut above all of his peers despite recently blowing out the candles on his 41st birthday cake.
There are mitigating circumstances, of course. The coronavirus pandemic, added to Argentina's various pre-existing financial crises, mean that almost every club is in dire financial straits, meaning that even the biggest sides kept squad-strengthening activity to a minimum this winter and most are in worse condition than at the start of 2021 personnel-wise. The constant tinkering with the league's format does nobody any favours, either, with the current marathon of league games until year's end essentially obliging teams to take as few risks as possible with the goal of not losing.
Still, it has all made for a soporific spectacle thus far. And while for the past two weeks that has been at least partially compensated by the excitement of the Olympic Games, soon the likes of Boca, River, Racing and Independiente will not have late-night kayaking or weightlifting to cover their backs. We can only hope that the league can hit its stride in the coming weeks and give supporters some incentive to return once stadiums are finally cleared to welcome them back; otherwise, this could prove to be a long, tedious campaign indeed.