Sunday, July 14, 2024

SPORTS | 25-08-2023 12:28

Tevez returns, a Copa Libertadores stalemate and Argentines star in America

Once again, it’s been a busy week for Argentine football – Carlitos has taken charge at Independiente, Acosta and Messi thrill the United States and two grandes clash in the Libertadores.

To borrow a phrase beloved of late-night US talk show hosts at a time when the writers' strike continues to leave them out of work, it has been a busy week for Argentine football.

Part two of the top-flight season began in the guise of the Copa de la Liga Profesional, with a rude awakening for league champions River Plate who lost a thrilling match 3-2 against Argentinos Juniors. Independiente also endured a rocky start by going down to Colón, leaving the Avellaneda club without a coach in the very first match of the new competition and also embroiled in a nail-biting relegation race to avoid joining all-but-condemned Arsenal.

The Rojo reacted to this latest setback by calling on a somewhat unlikely hero. Carlos Tevez is back, this time replacing Ricardo Zielinski following his underwhelming Rosario Central spell last year, and the Boca Juniors legend kicks off his tenure with a huge six-pointer against Vélez Sarsfield on Sunday that neither team can afford to lose as they fight against the drop.

Elsewhere, the world watched entranced as a wonderfully talented Argentine number 10 illuminated the US. Unfortunately for Luciano Acosta, his goalscoring heroics were not quite enough to stop the juggernaut that is Inter Miami and their star playmaker, who is also proving to be quite handy stateside. Just days after lifting the Leagues Cup Lionel Messi was on hand again to help his team into the final of the US Open Cup, laying on two goals for strike partner and scoring in a shoot-out as the Floridians squeezed past Acosta's Cincinnati FC on penalties. The Messi legend just keeps growing – and, let us remember, he is still yet to make his debut in Major League Soccer proper.

But the biggest match of the Argentine football week (or indeed the entire year to date) did not take place in the United States but, aptly enough, in Argentina. Two Grandes locked horns in the Copa Libertadores for the first time since 2020's quarter-final; the same two teams, in fact, in exactly the same round. Boca and Racing Club met in front of a raucous capacity Bombonera crowd on Wednesday and more or less ground each other to a standstill in a tense 0-0 draw.

Caution was the name of the game for both teams. The injury-ravaged visitors were desperate to avoid a repeat of that bruising defeat in Medellín last time round and failed to even test Sergio Romero in the Boca net until late in the second half, while Boca will probably be kicking themselves after failing to press their advantage on the night and push forward when the game looked theirs for the taking. That lack of urgency, coupled with a handful of near-misses and Gabriel Arias' solid display, almost cost them dear when the introduction of known Xeneize nemesis Juan Fernando Quintero sparked Racing into life and Fernando Gago's men could even have sealed a smash and grab victory in the final minutes with some sharper reactions in the box.

On to Avellaneda we go, then, for Wednesday's decider, and it is still too close to call. The tie might even hang on the fitness of two players: Valentín Barco, who was electric in the first half before being forced off; and Roger Martinez, Racing's Colombian striker who gives them a potency and swagger up front that was sorely missed with his absence last time out. On such fine margins will this Libertadores tie be decided – and the return match will be the highlight of what is shaping up to be another action-packed week as football gets back into full swing across the country.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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