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SPORTS | 08-12-2023 08:38

Football briefly rears its head in Argentina amid off-field scheming

The action keeps on coming – the acrimonious battle for control of Boca remains in the spotlight, but Copa Liga play-offs and promotion clashes draw the eye back to the pitch.

The action just keeps on coming in the ever intriguing world of Argentine football. The acrimonious battle for control of Boca Juniors remains in the spotlight, played out in the courtrooms and the streets as Mauricio Macri's masterful handling of the justice system is countered at every turn by Juan Román Riquelme's magnetic hold over thousands of Xeneize fans, who on Sunday packed Parque Lezama in support of their idol and favoured candidate.

If the conflict had not been dirty enough to date, things took another dark twist on Wednesday when Macri turned to the courts once more, filing a criminal complaint against his adversary for “incitement to commit criminal activities” – though at the time of writing what exactly that charge referred to was unclear. And just to feed the growing sensation that it is Román and Boca against the world – far from an uncomfortable position for them, it must be said – president-elect Javier Milei got in on the act, promising his (hopefully still metaphorical) chainsaw in Macri's service during a Twitter exchange which will hardly quell fears that a judicial intervention of the giant club is on the horizon once Sunday's presidential inauguration takes place.

But amid all that off-field scheming, there was actually some football to report on over the past week. Deportivo Riestra completed their rapid rise up the pyramid with play-off victory over Deportivo Maipú to seal the 28th and final place in next year's Liga Profesional, an astounding achievement for a team that just a decade ago was languishing down in the fifth-tier Primera D and receiving inspirational talks from one Diego Maradona, who was briefly the club's “spiritual adviser.” Going the other way, meanwhile, are Colón de Santa Fe, who went down to Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata in a relegation tie-breaker and now must brace the labyrinthine chaos of the Primera Nacional next season – even after filing a rather desperate appeal against the drop based on irregularities in the decision to scrap one relegation spot halfway through the season, which seems almost certain to fail.

At the other end of the table the Copa Liga play-offs got underway, with eight teams still hopeful of finishing 2024 with a fresh trophy in their possession. On Saturday both Platense and Godoy Cruz advanced to the semi-finals with penalty victories over Huracán and Banfield respectively, after games which were a trying watch for even the most enthusiastic neutral football fan. Luckily, it could only get better from there.

River Plate and Belgrano proceeded to play out a classic cup tie in Córdoba the following evening that left the Millonario's Liga/Copa double hopes intact. Lucas Passerini, a candidate to be named the best player of this competition after a sparkling campaign, thought he had at least sealed a shoot-out for Belgrano when he turned in a marvellous header 10 minutes from time to cancel out Salomón Rondón's own fine effort. But River still had one sting left in their tail and found the winner courtesy of Facundo Colidio late into injury time to seal the win.

The Millo move on to play Rosario Central, the winners of a similarly thrilling game against Racing Club which robbed Juan Fernando Quintero the opportunity to take on his old club. The playmaker dominated in Salta, scoring a crucial late equaliser from the spot and his own shootout effort after the clash finished 2-2, but it was still not quite enough for the Avellaneda side who sign off a year that promised much but ultimately fell well short of expectations across the board. As strange as it seems, River Plate coach Martín Demichelis finds himself in much the same situation, failing to convince fans he is the right man to stay in Marcelo Gallardo's old job despite a debut year which looks rock-solid to outsiders. The U17 World Cup exploits of under-utilised wonderkid Claudio Echeverri have not exactly helped to confirm the boss' judgement, either; but another title before the holidays would do him no harm at all in that daunting task of proving he can fill the hole left by his illustrious predecessor.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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