Relegation looms for crisis club River

BUENOS AIRES - River Plate fans jeered the players off, an elderly man died of a heart attack during a humiliating defeat on Saturday and the team's poor form has brought the real prospect of relegation for one of the world's great clubs.

Never have River sunk as low. A 2-1 defeat at home to Lanus on the final day of the Clausura championship was their seventh match without a win.

They now face a play-off for their survival against Nacional B division side Belgrano over two legs away in Cordoba on Wednesday and at the Monumental next Sunday.

Ninth in the Clausura championship standings, they landed in this dire situation with a low three-season points average with which relegation in measured.

The bottom two teams in this parallel table go down, the next two up face play-offs against second tier teams seeking promotion.

"You must all go," the fans chanted at the players as they walked off the pitch under the protection of police shields. "Not one can stay."

"An unidentified fan died in hospital after suffering a heart attack during the match," local media quoted Alberto Crescenti of the emergency medical services as saying.

WORST CRISIS

River are suffering their worst crisis in their 110 years' existence, far worse than the 18 years they went without a title between 1958 and 1975. Many times the record 33 times league champions were runners-up during that bleak period.

They are reaping the bad seeds planted by the previous eight-year administration of former club president Jose Maria Aguilar when the brilliant youth scheme that produced the likes of Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola ran dry and promising successors were sold off for a quick buck to pay debts.

River's former captain and coach Daniel Passarella won the presidential election a year and a half ago and has favoured steering a frugal path, refusing to spend on big-name squad reinforcements and betting on ex-team-mate JJ Lopez, a man with poor coaching credentials, to steer the team to safety.

The fans, with little reward for their massive support, are unlikely to see much change this week, just another last-ditch putsch against fate by a team far removed from the great attacking sides that once graced the Monumental.

"This is punishment for those who voted for Passarella," said Norberto Alonso, one of River's greatest ever midfielders and a former team mate of the president and Lopez.

By dropping into the relegation zone River have lost their place in the Copa Sudamericana, South America's equivalent of the Europa League, to a team below them in the Clausura standings.

Teams qualify on total points in the season's two championships, the Apertura in which River finished fourth and the Clausura.


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