Boca nears title as River festers in 2nd division

 Boca Juniors' soccer fans cheer as they wait for the start of an Argentine league soccer match with Atletico Rafaela in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sund...

Argentina Soccer

Boca Juniors' soccer fans cheer as they wait for the start of an Argentine league soccer match with Atletico Rafaela in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sund...

Boca Juniors and River Plate _ the traditional giants of Argentine football _ face very different assignments this weekend.
While River Plate travels to Jujuy in the extreme northwest of Argentina to play a little-known provincial side in the second division on Saturday, fierce rival Boca Juniors can take a step closer to the Apertura title at Velez Sarsfield a day later.
The fixtures are a stark reminder of how the fortunes of the two behemoths have diverged.
River, with 33 titles, and Boca, with 23, have dominated the domestic league _ but this season is different.
River has been relegated to the second division for the first time in its 110-year history and can only simmer as nemesis Boca nears the title.
Mirroring the delight of the club's fans, Boca's iconic playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme said even his young son is reveling in the situation.
"Agustin is nine years old and he's a real fan of Boca," Riquelme said after carrying the youngster onto the pitch on his shoulders following a recent match. "Now he goes off to school very happy and teases his teacher who supports River."
River's coach Matias Almeyda has grudgingly acknowledged the feel-good factor his rivals are enjoying. "Boca has had a perfect championship," he said. "There's nothing else to say. We've got to focus on ourselves and try to get River up (to the first division). What Boca does is their problem."
Relegation prompted fans to riot and forced the sale of top players like promising striker Diego Buonanotte.
But at least River has made a reasonable start to life in the second division under Almeyda, a club stalwart who also spent eight years in Italy's Serie A before moving up from the playing ranks to take his first coaching job following the drop.
After 12 matches, River is second on 23 points. The Buenos Aires club had been top until last week, when a surprise 2-1 defeat at home against Aldosivi allowed Instituto De Cordoba to take over.
Charitably, Boca coach Julio Cesar Falcioni has had time during his club's successful run to spare a thought for Almeyda's efforts.
"(River) is doing very well, very secure and strong," Falcioni said. "With the players they have, they'll surely keep having a good championship, but it's a tough tournament. It's a good experience for Matias."
There's still a long way to go before the "superclasico" derby between River and Boca returns to the league program on a regular basis however.
River must finish in the top two at the end of the 38-game season to clinch an automatic promotion spot at the first attempt. Third or fourth position will mean a playoff against a team from the top flight.
Boca's sights are set much higher. Falcioni's team has a nine-point advantage over second-place Atletico Rafaela after 13 matches of the 19-game Apertura season.
Falcioni, who took over less than a year ago, can take a lot of credit for returning Boca to the summit of Argentine football after a shaky couple of years.
The 55-year-old replaced Claudio Borghi, who was in charge for only seven months before stepping down and eventually taking over Chile's national team. Before Borghi, Boca had four coaches in four months.
Results were patchy during the upheaval. The Buenos Aires club was a dominant force in South America between 2000 and 2008, when it won four Copa Libertadores titles in 2000, '01, '03 and '07.
The club last won the title in 2008, but finished the 2010 Apertura season with just 25 points from 19 matches.
The retirement of record goalscorer Martin Palermo also seems to have helped. Without the striker's muscular aerial threat, Boca has been forced to play the ball on the ground more often.
That tactic harnesses the silky passing skills of Riquelme, who often had an uneasy relationship with Palermo.
Boca's statistics this term underline the improvement. With 17 goals scored and just three conceded, the team is one of only two unbeaten sides in the top flight and is serenaded at matches by fans singing "Come on, champions."
"We've only had 13 matches so far and nothing has been won yet," said Boca goalkeeper Agustin Orion. "But obviously if we win all the matches, it's inevitable that we will be champions."

Updated : 2020-11-30 01:33 GMT+08:00