Monday, July 22, 2024

SPORTS | 06-05-2022 09:55

Much-maligned Copa de la Liga Profesional reaches decisive phase

Two teams in each group are assured of their place already in the play-offs, while the remaining challengers must wait until Saturday or Sunday evening to find out whether they will be joining them in next week’s quarter-finals.

This weekend marks the 14th and final round of the Copa de la Liga Profesional, that improvised Frankenstein's monster of which, in spite of being conceived purely as a stop-gap to tackle the unwieldy number of teams in the top flight, has in fact grown into a rather interesting tournament with its fair share of gripping games. Two teams in each group are assured of their place already in the play-offs, while the remaining challengers must wait until Saturday or Sunday evening to find out whether they will be joining them in the quarter-finals which kick off midweek.

Out of Argentina's 'big five' there is an almost even split. Three clubs, Boca Juniors, Racing Club and River Plate, have made the next phase with time to spare; while Independiente and San Lorenzo went into the last weekend playing just for pride and waiting for a few weeks' rest after missing out. As is often the case much of the recent action at the two struggling giants has revolved around events off the pitch and in the boardroom.

San Lorenzo are now without a president after Marcelo Tinelli, who at the start of the year resigned as Liga Profesional chief, stepped down from yet another position in the midst of an acute crisis at the Boedo side. Vice-President Matías Lammens, meanwhile, remains on licence due to his position as Argentina's Tourism & Sports Minister and issued a call for club elections to be brought forward amid the administrative vacuum left by the media mogul, while if that were not enough, the Cuervo are still without a coach following Pedro Troglio's exit in April – and the director of football position also remains unfilled.

With such chaos swirling around San Lorenzo were almost asking for trouble with the signing of the perennial wildchild Ricardo Centurión at the start of the year, and the ex-Racing and Boca winger is making the headlines again for all the wrong reasons with a string of missed training sessions exposing the infuriating lack of discipline which has held him back throughout his career.

At Independiente the Copa Sudamericana has at least proved a welcome distraction from domestic woes, but all is not well in Avellaneda either. Planned elections at the end of 2021 have still yet to even be scheduled, and fans in any case seem to have no love either for incumbent president, teamster kingpin Hugo Moyano or his principal rival, journalist Fabián Doman. The latter is pushing for one of three resolutions to the current impasse: elections, Moyano's resignation or a unity pact, but the lack of movement is doing the Rojo no favours at all either off or on the pitch.

For all that above gloom, the Copa Liga has brought us some more positive stories. The dominance of Racing and Estudiantes – both rejuvenated after sub-par campaigns in 2021 under the contrasting philosophies of Fernando Gago and Ricardo Zielinski, whom we might lazily dub Beauty and the Beast. The surprise campaigns of Tigre and Aldosivi – both of which will advance should Huracán fail to beat Independiente on Saturday – have also caught the eye. The Mar del Plata club have found form under ex-Boca legend Martín Palermo while Tigre, who managed to capture the 2019 Copa Superliga while also getting relegated, are making a great fist of life back among the big boys after achieving promotion last term. The most enticing last-day battle, though, is to be found in Group 1, where no fewer than five teams are chasing one of the last two berths behind Racing and River.

Will Gimnasia, buoyant after three straight wins under the permatanned Néstor Gorosito, make the cut? Can Defensa y Justicia break their rotten run of form and channel their usual furious style of play? Could it be Sarmiento, another surprise package and still in the running despite last week's horrendous 7-0 drubbing by River? Or will the steady, practical football of Newell's and Argentinos Juniors prove the key to the play-offs?

An intriguing afternoon indeed is in store on Sunday, with the promise of even more to come when the knockout stage gets going in just a few short days.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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