River begin with Belgrano revenge meeting

River Plate return to the top flight of Argentine football at the weekend after the indignity playing in the second division and will immediately face the team who sent them down a little more than one year ago.

In a quirk football seems to have a habit of producing, the fixture list has paired River with Belgrano on the opening day of the season, the same team who beat them over two legs in a promotion/relegation play-off.

River's relegation sent shockwaves through the country as it was thought the Argentine Football Association (AFA) had engineered a system which made it impossible for any of the big clubs to go down.

Relegation is decided on a points-per-game average over three years, the logic being that while a big club may have one bad season, they are unlikely to have three in row.

However, beset by financial and organisational problems, River did exactly that and their woes ended with a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Cordoba-based Belgrano in the 2010-11 playoff.

Coached by Matias Almeyda and boosted by the signing of former France international David Trezeguet, who was raised in Buenos Aires, they won promotion at the first attempt last season.

Their presence means the return of the River-Boca derbies, one of the football world's great fixtures.

Boca themselves will be coming to terms with the departure of talismanic playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, who quit the club after they lost the Libertadores Cup final to Corinthians.

ONE WINNER

For the first time since 1990-91, the season will have only one single champion.

The last 21 seasons have been divided into two championships, known as the Apertura (Opening) and Clausura (Closing) with the 20 teams meeting once in each.

This time, the winners of each championship, which will be renamed 'Inicial' and 'Final', will meet in an end-of-season decider.

It is still not the same as a European league system as the team which has the most points over the whole season may not necessarily win the title. The controversial relegations system remains in place.

Despite the new format, Argentine football remains mired in problems with crowd violence, clubs in financial difficulties and the loss of promising young players to foreign clubs.

This, combined with the short championships, has led to a dramatic leveling out with smaller clubs such as Banfield, Lanus and Arsenal, the defending champions, all winning the title in the last five years.

In an attempt to clamp down on violence, the Argentine government and the AFA announced earlier this week that fans would be electronically finger-printed as they entered stadiums for some games.

The government said it would provide a database of finger prints to help identify troublemakers and keep them out of stadiums.


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