Stronger Boca ready to challenge again

BUENOS AIRES - A more highly anticipated Argentine league championship than in recent years kicks off on Friday with the main transfers involving leading senior players and a possible farewell ending for two of the most popular.

Ricardo Gareca, coach of joint favourites Velez Sarsfield, and his River Plate counterpart JJ Lopez have both said River's arch rivals Boca Juniors are the team to beat in the Clausura, the second championship of the 2010/11 season.

Boca have signed a new coach in Julio Cesar Falcioni and he has brought with him two top midfielders, Walter Erviti from Banfield and Leandro Somoza from Velez in the ever more numerous over-30s age group in Argentine football.

To see Erviti linking with Juan Roman Riquelme in the Boca midfield is a treat fans have been savouring ever since his protracted transfer finally came though last week while Boca's all-time record scorer Martin Palermo at 37 is still unsure if he wants to make this his last season.

In a league programme that even a Hollywood script writer might not have dreamt up, Boca are away to perennial strugglers Gimnasia-LP on the final day in mid-June with Guillermo Barros Schelotto lining up for the side from La Plata.

Palermo and Barros-Schelotto, who has returned to his first club from a successful three seasons with Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer in the United States, shared a rich attacking partnership at Boca in the early 2000s and both are favourites at the country's most popular club.

Barros Schelotto, also 37, is definitely retiring in June, he has said, but not before trying to secure Gimnasia's top flight survival as they grapple with a poor three-season relegation average that determines which sides go down.

TWO FRONTS

Boca aside, title holders Estudiantes and Velez, runners-up in the Apertura in December, will be top candidates for the Clausura although their focus will be on two fronts since they are taking part in the South American Libertadores Cup.

To this end, Velez have strengthened their squad with the addition of former Mexico striker Guillermo Franco and midfielder David Ramirez, both in their 30s, while Estudiantes continue to be led by 35-year-old Juan Sebastian Veron.

Veron's influence at the club which he one day dreams of leading as chairman is now being reported in the media as being a factor in coach Alex Sabella's shock resignation last week.

The champions appear to have fallen into equally good hands right away though having signed Eduardo Berizzo, former assistant of the highly regarded ex-Argentina and Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa, early this week.

River are the one big club to have steered clear of the market during the mid-season break as president and former captain and coach Daniel Passarella grapples with a massive debt left behind by the previous administration a year ago.

They will continue to rely strongly on 37-year-old former Argentina holding midfielder Matias Almeyda, having loaned Ariel Ortega out to modest All Boys whom some fans believe may come back to the Monumental to haunt them in the teams' clash in May as they too seek enough points to avoid relegation.

A defeat away to All Boys in October in the Apertura spelt the end at River for coach Angel Cappa and the appointment of former River midfielder Lopez.

Cappa, meanwhile, has bounced back at Gimnasia where his attacking philosophy, however, may take another battering.


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