Fresh starts for troubled Argentine pair

BUENOS AIRES - Two of Argentina's most popular but troubled clubs, Racing Club and Newell's Old Boys, will be making a fresh start when the Clausura championship kicks off at the weekend.

River Plate are set to welcome back two old favourites as they attempt to improve on their dismal showing last year while referees will use an aerosol spray to try and stop defensive walls creeping forward at free kicks.

The credit crunch appears to have favoured the championship with only a few players departing for Europe, notably Boca Juniors midfielder Jesus Datolo who has joined Italian Serie A club Napoli.

Racing Club, Argentina's fifth most successful club in terms of domestic titles, emerged from 10 years of bankruptcy in December before their 5,000-odd members voted in Rodolfo Molina as the club's first president since 1999.

Molina, describing Racing as a sleeping giant, immediately promised to return the club to greatness.

Only one of Racing's seven national titles has been won since 1966 and the club has employed 16 coaches in the last decade.

After nearly dropping into the second division last season, Racing are still in danger of going down as relegation in Argentina is decided on a points-per-game average taken over three whole seasons.

Racing, who face Lanus on Saturday, are 16th in the 20-team relegation table, one place outside the play off places.

Newell's Old Boys go into the championship under new president Guillermo Lorente after he won December's election against Eduardo Lopez, who had ruled the club for 14 controversial years.

RUN-DOWN FACILITIES

Lorente said that he inherited the club in a run-down state with many facilities abandoned or destroyed.

The situation is tense and last month a gang of around 30 armed men, suspected of belonging to a faction of the club's own supporters, invaded the club's headquarters, threatening staff and members.

The club board is worried that violence could resurface at their opening match on Saturday at home to Gimnasia-La Plata.

The Clausura is the second of two separate championships played in the Argentine season.

The 20 clubs meet once in each, a controversial system which critics say devalues the tournament but which others say reduces the danger of one dominant team running away with the season.

Defending champions Boca Juniors have largely kept their title-winning side intact, Datolo being the only key player to leave.

They make the long trip north to face Gimnasia-Jujuy on Sunday evening.

River, who incredibly finished bottom of the Apertura, have brought in Nestor Gorosito as their new coach.

Former Argentina pair Ariel Ortega, whose last stint at the club was marred by personal problems which led to him missing training seasons, was reported to be negotiating with the club over a possible return on Thursday

Media reports also said a deal had been closed to bring back temperamental midfielder Marcelo Gallardo.

River host Colon on Sunday.

Referees will have a new weapon as they try to keep walls back at free kicks - a quickly-vanishing spray to mark the wall's correction position on the pitch.

The spray was successfully tried out in the second division last year. The man who developed it, sports journalist Pablo Silva, said it is not connected to a similar product which has been used in Brazil for several years.