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SPORTS | 13-01-2023 13:21

Pre-season fails to ignite despite euphoria of World Cup win

There are still two weeks to go before the Liga Profesional kicks off again, but the first sneak look at the upcoming Liga Profesional de Fútbol was about as sobering as they get.

The euphoria of December's World Cup win is still very much alive, but with the New Year comes a reminder that football continues unabated after Lionel Messi and his Argentina team-mates' incredible heroics in Qatar. And as reminders go, the first sneak look at the upcoming Liga Profesional de Fútbol was about as sobering as they get.

Boca Juniors and Independiente played out a soporific 0-0 draw in San Juan to kick off the summer pre-season calendar in the most underwhelming fashion possible, a far cry from the flowing play and intense excitement which had us glued to our screens just a few weeks ago. There were mistakes a plenty, constant foul play and almost zero activity around either team's net, while the fans also did their part in inducing further World Cup withdrawal symptoms with a small yet vicious set-to in the stands, which only prolonged the wait for the full-time whistle during a seemingly endless second half.

All in all, then, a rather subdued return to regular activities for two of the Liga's biggest clubs; albeit with the hope that it can only get better from here.

For Boca, now firmly back in the media spotlight after taking an unfamiliar back seat at the end of 2022, the outlook post-World Cup looks remarkably similar. Under Hugo Ibarra, as with predecessors Sebastián Battaglia and Miguel Ángel Russo, the Xeneize remain a side which is built solidly from the back, gives up little and remains competitive across the 90 minutes – but which is almost entirely lacking in any spark of excitement on the field.

Successive Boca coaches have tried and failed to tackle that issue and no simple solution appears on the horizon, particularly in a transfer window which has seen them all but inactive, with not even the usual outlandish rumours livening up the Bombonera so far this summer. Then again, after picking up two titles last season there may be no need for a radical overhaul of their young squad, which should have enough about them to remain competitive even if the football on display is less than scintillating.

On the other side of the great divide, River Plate remain a great mystery. The team now marshalled by ex-Argentina international defender Martín Demichelis kicked off their year by beating Monterrey 1-0 in the United States, giving the impression of a side which unlike its rivals knows what kind of play it wants to show off but which is still a way off managing it just yet. The addition of a class act like Nacho Fernández, back in Núñez following a stint in Brazil, gives a much-needed cutting edge to the middle of the field; but there are still question marks surrounding the Millonario, both around the opposition and, most pressing, amid a defence which still looks flimsy after a poor 2022 campaign.

There are still two weeks to go before the Liga Profesional kicks off again, a fortnight which promises to be full of fevered activity. Last year's runners-up Racing Club are cash-rich but in need of further reinforcements following the sales of Enzo Copetti and Carlos Álcaraz, and we will soon find out if their pursuit of Peru legend Paolo Guerrero is feasible or just another piece of silly season rumour fodder. For Independiente, meanwhile, finding any sort of funds has proven a challenge, after their year began with a crushing reverse in the Court of Arbitration for Sport over unpaid transfer fees owed to Mexico's América. Judging by the stalemate with Boca, there is some reason for optimism in Avellaneda on the field at least, though new president Fabián Domán's stated desire to repatriate Alejandro Gómez looks like a step too far. Still, anything can happen now the spotlight is back on the top flight: who could have guessed, for example, that cult idol Luis 'Pulga' Rodríguez would be lining up in Santiago del Estero, where he will lead the charge for Central Córdoba in a shock move for the wily old forward.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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