Tea-time for Banfield and Vélez

It is, as Mr Editor pointed out last week, Libertadores o’clock. The finger tapping has been heard and duly noted, the frown has been imagined, and the hint has been taken. It's update time. (Crack on then, there's a good lad - Ed.)

Argentina’s two in-form teams were in action midweek, although both strutting their stuff South America's version of the Champions League. But their performances – Vélez in the cup, Banfield in the league – showed they're setting the pace both home and away.

Estudiantes may be the Libertadores holders, and may have kicked off proceedings with a 5-1 thumping of Juan Aurich (that’s a team, not a person), but Alianza Arena quickly brought the Pincha down to earth, beating the Students 4-1 in Lima.

Last year the men from La Plata also started this competition slowly and ended up lifting the trophy, but the seeds of doubt have been sown.

Lanús have lost both their games 2-0 and are all but out of the competition. Colón and Newell’s, meanwhile, failed to make the group stage, meaning that expectations and pressure are growing upon Vélez and Banfield.

A single point separates the two so far in 2010, with Vélez just above Banfield in the league table at home. Banfield won their clásico, while Vélez beat alleged title candidates Independiente 3-0 (with subs). In 2009, both were crowned Argentine champions; both have 100% records in the Libertadores; both are starting to think big.

Banfield trounced Argentinos Juniors 3-0 in the league on Wednesday night, making it five wins out of five games when Julio Falcioni has fielded his full first-choice XI.

Seba Fernández continues to shine up front, Walter Eriviti dominates midfield, and Ruben Ramirez grabbed his first league goal of the season, having come in to replace the departing Santiago Silva.

James Rodriguez, meanwhile, has convincingly replaced Javier Pastore as Argie Bargy’s favoured subject when conversation turns to Who is The Next Big Thing?

This Is Banfield

While Banfield can no longer be classed as a surprise package, and no one can claim that last season’s title win was a fluke, Vélez have the weight of history on their side.

They may not boast a man only separated from his namesake as The Fat One, nor may they have the man who admitted his thighs are ‘a gift from God’, but while Corinthians line up with Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos and believe they have a divine right to win this year’s Libertadores, so too do Vélez.

Also in their centenary year, the Fort have form in this competition.

As one Argentine told a gorgeous Corinthian supporter at a party recently - believing this to be a clever pulling tactic - the men from Sao Paolo haven’t won a single Libertadores trophy. Vélez have. (Argie Bargy doesn’t know whether the two kissed and made up.)

Neighbourly love aside, Ricardo Gareca’s Velez are a fitter and more brutal version of the squad that couldn’t maintain a league and cup challenge last season, thanks in a large part to the side’s firepower.

The Uruguayans Hernán López and Santiago Silva interchange as the muscular target man, while Maxi Moralez and Juan Manuel Martínez play just behind ‘in the hole.’ Adding to this, Gareca has Leandro Caruso and Rolando Zarate (brother of Zarate Kid, Mauro) on the bench, plus Jonathan Cristaldo when he recovers from injury.

Yet to concede in the Libertadores, and Kings of the Castle back home, Vélez may yet disprove the commonly-held wisdom that you can’t challenge on two fronts. That is unless Banfield beat them to it.

Vélez: Lopez (centre) celebrates with mates

Finally, many thanks to the clever-clogs who thought this week made for particularly good timing to stoke the flames of antagonism and hatred between Argentina and Britain.

Let’s put a flame to that oil! Argentina’s 1990 side was voted the most-hated in the history of mankind, while the 1960s Estudiantes side won an admirable bronze.

Olé have returned the favour, with a top 10 of ‘What do you most hate about the English?’

Amongst the favourites are Tatcher (without the first ‘h’ which makes it impossible for Argentines to pronounce), imperialism, tea at five, English soup, the pirate Drake, the kelper who had a trial at Boca, Beckham, Arsenal, and by default, the Argentine Arsenal, Arsenal de Sarandí.

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