Pragmatism, pain & plankton: the Apertura season review

Ed Malyon rounds up the (half) season action in Argentina...

THE CHAMPIONSBoca Juniors broke all sorts of records on their way to winning this title: an unbeaten campaign in which they conceded only six goals, winning the league by the biggest points margin since the move to short tournaments. Not pretty or expansive, but pragmatic and effective – they were deserving champions if not a little, well, dull.

THE CHALLENGERSSlightly inaccurate heading: it was painfully clear from around the halfway point that nobody would stop the Boca juggernaut. Three sides finished level on points with second-place Racing, who could've been a contender but for Diego Simeone’s overly-defensive outlook – they drew 10 of their 19 games, their matches averaging just 1.26 goals per game in total.

The late surge from Velez flatters their season, while newly-promoted Belgrano will be delighted with their finish but should struggle more now that playmaker Franco Vazquez is off to Palermo in January. As predicted in these pages pre-season [humble brag], Colon did OK with new signings Chevanton and Tomas Costa, but certainly exceeded expectations by finishing fifth.

THE NOTHINGNESSMid-table anonymity is a desperate disappointment for some and a joyful haven for others; Godoy Cruz finished the season poorly but still qualify for the Copa Libertadores due to Argentina’s barmy football calendar system. Independiente shuffled managers and ended up in eighth, the three promoted sides that weren’t the aforementioned Belgrano all finished in the top 11, and the senseless plankton of the division like Arsenal and All Boys were in there somewhere, it’s just that nobody cares where.

Tigre are the most interesting story: almost certainties for relegation come June due to Argentina’s frankly odd relegation system (notice a theme?), this small suburban club needed to challenge for the title in both the Apertura and Clausura to even have a chance of staying up. Well, part one is complete: they finished seventh, and have a chance of reaching a relegation play-off which seemed impossible only a few months ago.

THE BOTTOMEstudiantes should have been challenging for the title; the only bright spot for them is that Juan Seba Veron has decided he’ll postpone retirement for another six months. San Lorenzo are one of the Argentine ‘big five’ but are on course for the relegation play-offs despite boasting one of the division’s best playmakers in Nestor Ortigoza.

Olimpo’s Martin Rolle has been outstanding despite playing in a terrible side and he’ll doubtlessly be off when their inevitable relegation is confirmed in June. The other two sides at the foot were Newell’s Old Boys, who are just terrible, and Banfield. Argie Bargy's season preview tipped the latter to be the surprise package but they only surprised in how diabolically poor they were, finishing rock bottom.

COPA LIBERTADORES QUALIFICATIONBoca Juniors, Velez Sarsfield, Lanus and Godoy Cruz are all deserved qualifers for South America’s premier continental competition. Arsenal de Sarandi aren’t, but will somehow be playing in it due to being the most successful Argentinian side in the Copa Sudamericana. Getting into the top continental competition for not even reaching semis of the secondary cup is, however, an absolutely mental rule.

AND RIVER PLATE...?They’re second in the B Nacional, just two points off leaders Instituto de Cordoba (former club of QPR’s Alejandro Faurlin). Expect them to be back in the big time come August.

THE ARGIE BARGY AWARDSPlayer of the season Rolando Schiavi (Boca Juniors) Young player of the season Franco Vazquez (Belgrano)Top scorer Ruben Ramirez (Godoy Cruz)Manager of the season Julio Cesar Falcioni (Boca Juniors)Best nickname Franco ‘The Mute’ VasquezPlayer most likely to be mistaken for a constellation Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors)

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