When Boca Juniors slipped up in a razor’s edge title race, it looked as if the advantage had moved to River Plate, until another surprise came along
One week ago the title picture was clear – Boca Juniors and River Plate had both secured victories and it appeared a straight shootout between the two sworn enemies of La Primera was certain. That may well still be the case but on a weekend where Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s league leaders stuttered once more, the door was wide open for Marcelo Gallardo’s Millonarios to seize the initiative. River’s failure to take advantage leaves Boca as favourites but perhaps reignited hopes of outsiders.
While an idiotic Boca fan might have landed himself in hot water with the police by making a call to 911 regarding the robbery of two points on Saturday evening, to any neutral there was little doubt over Huracan’s injury time equaliser and no question that Los Xeneizes are stumbling to the title rather than charging home.
With two wins from their last seven it is perhaps a surprise to see Boca still lead the Primera and it is only the unreliable form of the chasing pack that has let them off the hook.
Relegation threatened Huracan gave the the leaders a tough evening in Parque Patricios and while Dario Benedetto looked to have come to the rescue again, when Agustin Rossi recklessly collided with Daniel Montenegro in the 94th minute, only the staunchest Boca supporter would maintain that an error had denied them victory.
Barros Schelotto was sent from the dugout (as has become almost customary for the hot-headed coach) and Alejandro Romero Gamarra tucked away the spot-kick, setting the stage for River Plate to surge into pole on Sunday.
Rosario Central, having lost only once in their last seven matches, were always likely to pose difficulties in the Monumental but Marcelo Gallardo’s high-fliers were surprisingly flat and aside from Sebastian Driussi hitting the post from range did little to warrant victory against Paolo Montero’s well-drilled outfit.
Do Central deserve enormous credit for stifling River or has the momentum of the River juggernaut begun to slow? This week may well answer that question as River play their game in hand away to Atletico Tucuman on Wednesday evening with victory leaving El Millo just a point behind Boca with four rounds remaining.
The significance of the coming weekend couldn’t be greater – Boca host fellow grande and in-form Independiente while River Plate make the short trip to Bajo Flores to face San Lorenzo. Meetings in Buenos Aires between the Big Five are always major events but Sunday’s may well decide the destination of the title.
If the trophy does end up away from either La Bombonera or El Monumental it will be a surprise but the pair dropping points did allow Newell’s Old Boys, Banfield and Estudiantes to close the gap.
Three straight defeats had all but wrecked Newell’s dreams but La Lepra saw off a spirited challenge by Olimpo in Rosario to move within five of Boca and were joined by Julio Cesar Falcioni’s Banfield, who saw off relegation threatened Temperley.
Estudiantes bounced back from defeat thanks to free-scoring full back Matias Aguirregaray’s brace against Union. Nelson Vivas’ side are within six points but are in need of a miracle to usurp the Buenos Aires giants.
While Boca and River remain firm favourites, all of the top five will still harbour hopes, however slim. Even without lifting the title, Copa Libertadores qualification remains the goal for so many and this would be an achievement given the competition.
San Lorenzo, Independiente, Racing Club and Colon hover just below, waiting for a slip and desperate for the prize of Libertadores football.
With four rounds remaining, all of this plus Copa Sudamericana qualification and the four relegation spots remain up for grabs.