Saturday, June 15, 2024

SPORTS | 02-02-2023 14:19

First weekend of new season fails to ignite, despite the warm welcome

Argentina’s Liga Profesional de Fútbol slumbers back into gear after a long, revelry-filled summer break.

It is not often that January is brought to life with the chants and yells of Argentina’s favourite sport. But the nation’s traditional month of rest and relaxation this year saw the opening of the Liga Profesional de Fútbol (LPF), breaking the long break necessitated by those unforgettable scenes in Qatar – which, of course, also took centre-stage back home on this maiden weekend of action.

Searing heat and conditions barely fit for any type of strenuous activity: if nothing else, Franco Armani’s World Cup experience was fine practice for playing a summer match in Santiago del Estero. As the sole member of the victorious Albiceleste squad active in the local league, River Plate’s goalkeeper received a hero’s welcome from both home and away fans as he visited the Mother of All Cities, including his own framed Central Córdoba shirt in a moving ceremony before kick-off.

“I felt great joy during the supporters’ greeting,” Armani said after the game. “They made me feel their affection right from the warm-up. I am grateful to every fan of Central Córdoba and River because I got a great reception... We know that the World Cup is the biggest goal, but I want to keep winning things.”

The veteran keeper was subsequently kept rather busy but proved up to the challenge to maintain a clean sheet as the Martín Demichelis era kicked off with three points. Another River idol, Ignacio Fernández, marked his comeback with a goal and Pablo Solari was also on target to see the visitors through 2-0. 

Further good news was forthcoming during the week as Enzo Fernández’s record-breaking move to Chelsea left the Millonario the astronomical sum of US$33 million in sell-on fees, meaning that including the initial transfer and bonuses River stand to make US$54 million – by far the largest deal in history involving an Argentine club.

Over at Boca Juniors, meanwhile, the focus is on purchasing, particularly in the final third. Which is curious given that the Liga Profesional’s most lethal striker is still technically on the club’s books.

Mateo Retegui smashed 19 goals for Tigre during the 2022 campaign, five more than any other of his peers; and the on-loan striker picked up exactly where he left off in the new term with a double to down Estudiantes in La Plata. Whether the 23-year-old wished to stay at Tigre with guarantees of first-team action or whether Boca’s eyes were turned elsewhere (both versions of events are doing the rounds), Retegui is certainly proving himself the match of anyone in the top flight with his burly yet subtle forward play.

Not that Boca were hurt too much; even without creating too much in front of goal, they had just enough to squeeze past Atlético Tucumán and win 1-0, a feat beyond last year’s runners-up Racing Club who were held to a dull, disappointing 0-0 draw by Belgrano. Perhaps the most exciting moments in Avellaneda came prior to the match, when rumours of intra-barra hooligan unrest and possible violent repercussions led to it first being ordered behind closed doors and then opened again in a matter of hours due to a savage supporter backlash.

The first weekend of course is far too early to draw sweeping conclusions but San Lorenzo and Independiente fans might just be getting excited after wins over Arsenal and Talleres respectively, raising hopes their recent malaise may be passing in 2023. So too in Lanús, with extra motive for celebration: erstwhile wonderkid Pedro de la Vega, playing his first match in a year following a cruciate ligament injury, needed just 12 minutes to open the scoring on the way to victory against Colón. The Granate, along with Vélez Sarsfield and Rosario Central, both of whom also prevailed, also stand to benefit from a spot of Argentine misfortune.

For amid high expectations Argentina’s Under-20s were summarily sent packing from the South American Championship in the first round, marking an inauspicious start indeed to Javier Mascherano’s coaching career. But their loss is a gain for a handful of Liga clubs who have paid close attention to the development of their young stars. Lanús and Central recover three players each at least a fortnight before schedule, while Vélez welcome back no fewer than four promises eager to make amends for that muted campaign in Colombia. 

There is plenty going on already then as the Liga Profesional rolls into gear after that long, revelry-filled summer break.



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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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