Ayala set for Avellaneda derby

BUENOS AIRES - Former Argentina captain Roberto Ayala will step into Independiente's newly refurbished Libertadores de America ground on Saturday for his biggest match since returning home - the fiercely contested "Clasico de Avellaneda."

The games between Independiente and Racing Club in the Buenos Aires suburb of Avellaneda have at times put even the great Argentine derbies between Boca Juniors and River Plate in the shade for passion and, occasionally, violence.

Ayala, a veteran of Argentina's battles against arch-rivals Brazil, for River against Boca back in the early 1990s and AC Milan versus Inter, is well up to the task mentally.

It is his game that will be tested, having returned to a struggling Racing side at the age of 36 from Real Zaragoza at the end of a decade and a half of football in Europe.

Hailed as the rock on which Racing would settle their shaky defence, Ayala was part of two of the three successive defeats that cost coach Claudio Vivas his job two weeks ago.

In came the more experienced Miguel Angel Russo, who dispensed with the three-man back line to field a tighter back four and steer Racing to a 1-0 win over San Lorenzo in his first match in charge last weekend.

RED DEVILS

Independiente, Argentina's Red Devils, were thumped 3-0 at Velez Sarsfield after having shown their title credentials with a share of the lead in the standings after four matches.

Their fans believe that Racing, who have not beaten them in their last six meetings, are there for the taking again on Saturday.

Racing, who wear the same light blue and white colours of the Argentina team and have had close links with government since the days of dictator Juan Domingo Peron and his wife Evita in the 1950s, their glory years, hope the good times are back.

The side known as 'The Academy' believe their busy shopping in the January sales will pay off and they can look forward to a brighter future away from perennial fighting against relegation.

The clubs' rivalry has been exacerbated by the mere 300 metres that separate their stadiums and the fact that Independiente hold a record seven South American Libertadores Cup titles to Racing's one.

Authorities will hope there is no repeat of the violence that exploded during the Aug. 2006 derby, when visiting Racing fans rioted and fought police when the hosts were 2-0 up.

Horacio Elizondo, who only weeks earlier had refereed the World Cup final in Berlin, abandoned the match and Independiente were awarded the points.