Equality or mediocrity?

Much like Independiente’s stadium, the grandly named Libertadores of America, the Argentine league is far from ready. Although everyone was desperate to get back to club football after the World Cup and get on with fútbol para todos, very few of the teams are actually ready for battle.
Together with Argentinos Juniors, the champions, the Rojo finished off round two of the Apertura on Monday night.

Three months ago, these two met and produced a rip-roaring 4-3, a match that had everything and strode boldly to the front of the Best Game of the Season queue. Last night, however, things were very different. They played out a below-par draw, littered with mistakes, devoid of ideas, tension and excitement.

The last time the two faced each other, Independiente had an outside chance of challenging for the title, while by winning, Argentinos took a giant step towards being crowned champions.

While there may be nothing at stake just now, the final match of week two, the 20th game of the campaign, added to the growing trend this season. Only one game has been decided by a difference of two goals. Nobody has scored more than two goals in a game. It’s all square.

To explain this neck-and-neck start to the season, the pessimists that surround us point to the wider problems plaguing Argentine football. Mediocrity on the pitch; poor planning in the boardroom; racist taunts from the stands (stands that are crumbling or not yet ready); half-hour long blackouts during games – as happened during Olimpo’s first home game of the season; 20-minute half-times; battling barra bravas, and so on. It’s rotten to the core - they’re all as bad as each other, they say.

The only way to stay optimistic in the face of some of these frankly undisputable criticisms is to simply to put to one side, for the time being, the institutional problems of Argentine football.

Sticking to the action on the pitch, the league is one of the most open and democratic leagues around. You don’t need money, because nobody really has any. Everyone is struggling to keep the same squad of players for more than six months. The traditional hierarchy of Argentine football is no more. A myriad of problems have levelled the playing field, so to speak, making the league impossible to predict. It is more about who can improvise the best.

The only certainty for this season was that Vélez and Estudiantes would be strong, and so it is proving to be as they both beat newly-promoted sides at the weekend to take their second win of the season.

All the other clubs are completely unknown quantities. All Boys are considerably better than their zero-point tally would suggest. While River and Boca both bought well over the close-season, it's only River who have won all six available points – Boca have just one point. The only grande that made any impact on the title race last season, Independiente, sacked their coach, and like Boca have just one point from their first two games.

It's too early to start drawing conclusions, but some coaches will be very aware of two things. First, that their side is still far from being the finished product, meaning that playing attractive and attacking football isn’t at the top of their priorities, leading to games like Independiente versus Argentinos. And second, that we're already just around the corner from starting the other competition that runs in parallel with the league – the sack race.

Colón 0-1 Banfield
Boca 1-2 Racing
Lanús 1-1 Newell’s
Tigre 1-2 Arsenal
San Lorenzo 2-2 Godoy Cruz
Huracán 0-1 River
All Boys 1-2 Vélez
Estudiantes 2-0 Quilmes
Olimpo 1-0 Gimnasia
Independiente 1-1 Argentinos

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