Boca Juniors are the winners of the Argentina Primera, but their victory was just as much about rivals failing to deliver when it mattered
San Lorenzo’s victory over Banfield on Tuesday evening in Bajo Flores sparked wild celebrations outside a hotel, 650 kilometres south in Bahia Blanca, where Boca Juniors’ preparations ahead of their match against Olimpo on Wednesday were disrupted by that result clinching them a 32nd league title.
There is no doubt that over the course of the year-long season in Argentina, Boca are worthy champions; the league table doesn’t lie after all, but there is perhaps something fitting about Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side being crowned without kicking a ball themselves and instead the failure of a rival, sending the trophy to La Bombonera.
With the more familiar system in Argentina of two short championships a year providing scope for greater surprises, Juan Roman Riquelme admitted this week in an interview with Fox Sports that, ‘with long tournaments, we’ll have to get used to Boca and River always winning’ and his old club immediately backed up that claim.
In the sprint that is a short championship, things click for a group of players, the squad suffers no serious injuries and two months of good form can win the title but over the marathon of a 30-match season, interrupted by a transfer window, it’s all about consistency and in this regard, since last August, no one could match Boca.
Banfield’s defeat on Tuesday signified the last contender falling but the fact that El Taladro are even set for a Copa Libertadores spot is over-achievement in itself. Julio Cesar Falcioni deserves enormous praise for taking a side that looked more likely relegation candidates and in less than a year transform into Boca’s closest title rival but with eight away defeats in one season, it’s clear that Banfield were not championship winning material.
Fierce rivals River Plate appeared the most serious challenger, particularly after a superclasico victory in La Bombonera, but a poor first half of the season had left a lot of ground to recover and Los Millonarios have eventually come up short following consecutive defeats. Marcelo Gallardo clearly prioritized cup competitions and the same distractions have also had a negative impact on the league form of defending champions Lanus, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes to name a few.
Boca, meanwhile, have been unswerving in their approach since the bitter disappointment of their 2016 Copa Libertadores semi final defeat to Independiente del Valle. When all other avenues for qualification to international competition in 2017 closed, it made Boca temporarily the butt of jokes among rival supporters, but more importantly gave an under-pressure Guillermo Barros Schelotto the motivation and focus to accept nothing less than the Primera title from his squad.
This early failure in the tenure of club icon Barros Schelotto brought with its own pressure but in nearly all their biggest tests during the campaign, Boca answered their critics. When you compare River’s record of one win in matches against the ‘Big Five’, Boca have been almost flawless. Defeat to River in May aside, Los Xeneizes celebrated victory in the return fixture in El Monumental and defeated Racing, Independiente and San Lorenzo to stamp their authority on Buenos Aires.
While Barros Schelotto has been driving force from the touchline, during the first half of the season, his on-field general was unquestionably Carlos Tevez and despite leaving for Shanghai midway through the season, the 33-year-old’s contribution cannot be understated. Tevez’s match-winning display against River was his parting gift but the Jugador del Pueblo’s leadership and five goals and seven assists were a vital part of the fourteen-match unbeaten streak before the summer break.
— Boca Jrs. Oficial (@BocaJrsOficial) June 21, 2017
Fernando Gago assumed charge after Tevez had gone and when fit, provided numerous reminders of his talent in midfield, and while Boca remained a little fragile defensively, the attacking trident of Ricardo Centurion, Cristian Pavon and the Primera’s leading scorer Dario Benedetto came to the fore.
Pavon may have at times displayed the inconsistencies expected of a 21-year-old but has contributed important goals while Centurion, who has missed games through injury and ill-discipline, has demonstrated his creativity and skill in abundance. The pair’s pace has been integral to the Boca attack while the lethal Benedetto has provided the cutting edge, swiftly silencing those who doubted his signing and converting many to proclaim the 27-year-old as the club’s best number nine since Martin Palermo.
This group of players have deservedly taken the plaudits but the contributions of Pablo Perez, Frank Fabra, Wilmar Barrios and Gino Peruzzi have also been important and the strength of options available to Barros Schelotto, except perhaps in central defence, was another added pressure to contend with.
Given the squad available and those failures of 2016, anything less than the title and Barros Schelotto would arguably have been in trouble but Boca have done exactly what was demanded and responded in a manner befitting of the most successful club in Argentine football. Back in the Copa Libertadores next year and defending their Primera crown means the real challenge lies ahead for Barros Schelotto and Boca.