Barring the mother of all chokes, Boca are all set for winning La Primera after River Plate fell at a final hurdle in the title race
The past weekend in the Primera Division always felt as though it could be decisive with four of the five grandes facing off in Buenos Aires with just three rounds of action remaining once all the final whistles sounded.
So it proved, but while most would have predicted in-form River Plate to maintain their momentum away to San Lorenzo, it was stuttering leaders Boca Juniors who regrouped, deservedly beat dangerous Independiente and now have one hand on the title trophy.
With just two draws spoiling a perfect league record that stretched back to March, River had gradually reeled in their fierce rivals and while Argentina under-20s premature World Cup exit in South Korea meant Lucas Alario and Jorge Moreira needed to serve their one-match suspensions on Sunday (no longer able to use handy Article 225 given River’s youth players had returned), Marcelo Gallardo’s side were still confident of victory in the Nuevo Gasometro.
Nicolas Blandi had volleyed San Lorenzo ahead but when Sebastian Driussi equalised from the penalty spot, Los Millonarios still looked a decent bet for the points. However, with Alario already missing, an injury to Driussi soon after his 17th of the season, severely blunted River and with Carlos Auzqui proving a far more forgiving forward, San Lorenzo punished their visitors.
Fernando Belluschi teased the River midfield into a foul with a delightful double nut-meg on Nacho Fernandez and Leonardo Ponzio and from the resulting free-kick drew another high-profile error from young goalkeeper Augusto Batalla. The 21-year-old’s weak attempted catch/punch allowed Paulo Diaz to bundle Los Cuervos ahead and the second goal proved decisive.
A first league defeat since December’s superclasico, a missed opportunity to leapfrog Boca for the first time and the chance for their rivals to open up a four-point lead suddenly loomed.
Boca had won only twice in seven and seen their lead cut so the visit of an Independiente side brimming with confidence, having not lost in fourteen was far from straight-forward (in theory).
Perhaps boosted by River’s earlier defeat or Independiente’s midweek match in Peru, Boca were far superior and arguably had Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side played with similar intensity over the past month, the Primera title would already be wrapped up.
Colombian Wilmar Barrios was tigerish in midfield, Crisitan Pavon threating with his pace and Dario Benedetto once again deadly in front of goal. There may have been some doubt over Boca’s opener from the penalty spot but there was little argument over the better side and so Junior Benitez heading a second reflected the superiority at the break.
The visitors briefly threatened but Benedetto ensured victory with his 18th of the season. All those who doubted whether the 27-year-old have been forced to eat their words as the Primera’s leading marksman looks to have dragged Boca over the line. Four points clear ahead of matches against Aldosivi, Olimpo and Union – if Barros Schelotto isn’t lifting the trophy in a few weeks, supporters won’t be able to forget (or forgive) the mother of all bottle-jobs.
El Taladro have turned the screw a little too late
Julio Cesar Falcioni has nothing to prove at the Estadio Florencio Sola having led Banfield to their only Primera title back in 2009. His return to the club is unlikely to result in a triumphant repeat but El Taladro have won six of their last seven and are in third, only a point off River.
Returning hero, Dario Cvitanich has proved an astute summer signing, his seventh goal in thirteen matches firing Banfield to victory over Gimnasia on Saturday and to complete a trio of successful homecomings, Nicolas Bertolo has put his frustrating spell at River behind him. Youngster Emanuel Cecchini deserves special mention in midfield and with each passing week it becomes more difficult to see the club holding onto the 20-year-old.
Title race might be run but Libertadores spots are all to play for
Just below the top three, a real dog-fight for the remaining two Copa Libertadores places promises an exciting season finale.
San Lorenzo fresh from their victory over River are perhaps the leading contenders after Newell’s and Estudiantes suffered defeat at the weekend. However, both clubs along with Avellaneda giants Independiente and Racing plus Lanus and Colon are all desperate for a top-five finish.
Four points separate San Lorenzo in fourth and Colon in tenth but El Rojo will be hoping their game in hand will boost their hopes.
Relegation threat kick starts club at the bottom
If the battle near the top was exciting, the scrap to avoid the drop has suddenly sparked into life. Sarmiento and Atletico de Rafaela could have been relegated this weekend had results gone against them but the pair earned vital wins over Defensa y Justicia and Godoy Cruz respectively.
This in turn perhaps gave extra motivation to those hovering just above and so Temperley saw off Talleres, Arsenal won away to Belgrano and Olimpo took all the points in the big relegation clash against Huracan. That result leaves El Globo perilously close to the bottom four while Quilmes’ 14th defeat in seventeen matches makes El Cervecero among the relegation favourites.