Argentina: Torneo Clausura Preview
The second half of the Argentinian league season begins this weekend and if it’s anything like recent tournaments there could be a few surprises in store. The Clausura (Closing Championship) is the second league championship of the season and comes just a couple of months after Estudiantes de La Plata secured their fifth title success when winning the Apertura (Opening) Championship. Other matters such as Copa Sudamericana qualification and relegation will also be decided by the time the Clausura finishes in May so the next few months are going to be very important for all twenty teams involved in Argentina’s elite division.
Estudiantes de La Plata pipped nearest challengers Vélez Sársfield to the Apertura title by two points and the pre-season building up to the Clausura was going well before coach Alejandro Sabello shocked the club’s fans by announcing his resignation just days before the big kick-off. Eduardo Berizzo, who was previously assistant coach to Marcelo Bielsa with the Chilean national team, takes over for his first big job in club management. His first match in charge is a home game against Newell’s Old Boys who will want to improve on their mid-table position in the Apertura. Amongst the teams who have to juggle domestic and Libertadores campaigns Vélez Sársfield look like they could be a serious contender but have what appears to be a potentially tricky start to the campaign with away games at fellow Libertadores qualifiers Independiente and Argentinos Juniors sandwiching their first home game of the Clausura against All Boys. Godoy Cruz and Argentinos Juniors are teams who have performed consistently well in the last two league tournaments to merit their Libertadores places but Independiente only qualified due to winning the 2010 Copa Sudamericana and will hope to forget their 20th place finish in the Apertura.
The big two of River Plate and Boca Juniors have shown signs that the hard times could be coming to an end but there is still a lot of work to do especially with the former still in danger of going down (they lie 16th in the averages table used to determine relegation – the bottom two go straight down whilst 17th and 18th must enter play-offs) and the latter having changed coach yet again with newly appointed Julio César Falcioni being their sixth coach in three years. At least Boca had plenty more to smile about in their pre-season campaign, defeating arch-rivals River in the traditional Mar del Plata tournament and winning three of their four games to head into their opening league game against Godoy Cruz with confidence. River, on the other hand, didn’t win any of their four games ahead of their opening Clausura game against Tigre but with no continental commitments and the motivation to preserve top flight status Los Millionarios should recover as the season progresses.
Amongst the teams threatened with relegation the likely contenders to go straight down are Olimpo, who are the only team with an average of less than one point (exactly 0.947 before the Clausura), and Quilmes but the likes of Gimnasia de La Plata, Huracán and River Plate can still get sucked into the automatic relegation places should they fail to find any consistency. In the case of Huracán it is sad to think that they could go down just two years after finishing runners-up in the 2009 Clausura – a tournament which they cruelly lost to Vélez Sársfield in a last-day title decider – but such is the system that eventualities like that can happen. Teams hoping to improve on their disappointing Apertura finishes are the likes of San Lorenzo (14th place) and Banfield (15th), both of whom are amongst the eight different clubs to have won a league title in the last four seasons, whilst those hoping to progress on a promising first half of the season are the likes of Arsenal (3rd), Racing Club (6th), 2008 Apertura champions Lanús (7th) and little-known Buenos Aires outfit All Boys (8th).