After four years without a league title, River Plate finally
ended their drought in the 2008 Clausura, a competition that also
saw traditional heavyweights Racing Club plunged deep into the
relegation mire. Now facing a play-off to preserve their top-flight
status, these are worrying times for fans of Argentina's
FIFA.com recaps a season that was once again
marked by the continued exodus of the country's finest young
Simeone stops the rot
River Plate stormed to their 33rd professional league title after recording 13 wins, four draws and two defeats, scoring 29 goals and conceding just 13 in the process. Immersed in a crisis of confidence after the departure of Daniel Passarella, the Millonarios turned to up-and-coming Diego Simeone to end their title drought.
The man who masterminded Estudiantes de La Plata's triumph in the Apertura 2006 tournament certainly proved that success was no flash in the pan. After a slow start, the Buenos Aires aristocrats went from strength to strength, even taking a painful Copa Libertadores exit in their stride thanks in part to a core of gifted youngsters from the club's youth system. With Juan Pablo Carrizo between the sticks, Oscar Ahumada and Matias Abelairas bolstering midfield and top scorer Diego Buonanotte paired with Radamel Falcao in attack, Simeone's youthful charges proved too strong for the chasing pack.
The icing on the cake was Ariel Ortega captaining the side at
the end of the campaign, a fitting tribute to a long-standing
darling of the Monumental faithful. "This is for all those
people who believed in us despite being such a young side,"
said coach Simeone, winner of two league titles in his two-year
coaching career to date. "Let's hope we can keep this
going into the second half of the year, as we have a lot of
objectives still to achieve."
Falling just short
Despite not picking up either the Apertura 2007 or Clausura 2008 crowns, Boca Juniors and Estudiantes were the sides to garner most points over the course of the two competitions. Independiente and Argentinos Juniors also performed impressively in qualifying for the Copa Sudamericana, while newly promoted Tigre and Huracan avoided a swift return to the second tier.
In a weighty blow to Argentina's established footballing hierarchy, Avellaneda outfit Racing Club ended the tournament facing a play-off to preserve their first-division status. The Academia began the season needing an improvement on their recent poor form, only to sink deeper into trouble after just two wins from their 19 games, allied to a change of coach and administrative problems. As a result, Juan Manuel Llop's team must overcome Cordoba side Club Atletico Belgrano, of the Nacional B division, over a two-legged play-off to avoid a first relegation in 25 years. In the other promotion/relegation face-off, Gimnasia de Jujuy take on Union de Santa Fe.
The star men
Not only were Juan Pablo Carrizo, Rodrigo Palacio, German Denis and Dario Cvitanich this year's outstanding individuals, but all now appear set to further their careers on European soil. The River keeper has joined Lazio, Denis leaves Independiente to join Napoli while Cvitanich of Banfield, Clausura top scorer with 13, will wear the colours of Dutch giants Ajax in the 2008-09 campaign. Boca Juniors forward Palacio, meanwhile, is nearing a move to Serie A. Other players to have caught the eye were the aforementioned Buonanotte (River), Martin Palermo (Boca), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes), Santiago Salcedo (Newell's) and Gabriel Hauche (Argentinos).
A Banfield player had not topped the Primera Division scoring charts since 1949, when Juan Jose Pizzutti shared first spot with Racing's Llamil Simes on 26 goals apiece. Dario Cvitanich, with 13 strikes, can now head for the Netherlands safe in the knowledge of a job well done.
"This team were crowned champions because they are courageous. We bounced back from a really heavy blow in the form of our Libertadores exit, but we moved on and got quickly back on track. We deserved to have something to celebrate because we never gave in. I'm pleased for those people who believed in us. This is a very tough competition and I felt as happy as a 10-year-old boy when we were doing the lap of honour," River Plate coach Diego Simeone.
1. River Plate (champions, 43 points)
2. Boca Juniors (39)
3. Estudiantes de La Plata (39)
4. San Lorenzo (35)
5. Velez Sarsfield (32)
Racing Club-Club Atletico Belgrano
Gimnasia de Jujuy-Union de Santa Fe
1. Dario Cvitanich, Banfield (13)
2. Martin Palermo, Boca (10)
3. German Denis, Independiente (9)
4. Santiago Salcedo, Newell's (9)
5. Martin Bravo, San Martin (9)