The Argentinian Clausura 2009 was a clear victory for the country's less-heralded clubs, with low-spending Velez Sarsfield winning the title, humble Huracan coming agonisingly close, and Lanus and Colon staying in the hunt until the very end. FIFA.com brings you an overview of a campaign marked by disappointment for big-name clubs, a coaching merry-go-round and relegation for Gimnasia de Jujuy and San Martin.
Boasting a strengthened squad and former player Ricardo Gareca at the helm, Velez Sarsfield did what many had predicted before the season began and claimed their seventh league title. But they were made to work hard for their success, clinching the crown only after a late Maximiliano Moralez goal secured a 1-0 home win over leaders Huracan on the final matchday. The stats prove they were worthy winners, with Velez picking up 11 wins, seven draws and just a solitary defeat - against Gimnasia La Plata - while the 13 goals conceded by keeper German Montoya was a divisional low this season.
It is often said that football only remembers winners, but nobody will forget Huracan's marvellous campaign. El Globo, packed with promising youngsters and coached by Angel Cappa, were a breath of fresh air thanks to their eye-catching and expansive football and came within just five minutes of winning only their second league title in 35 years. Cappa's charges were also the division's top scorers with 35 goals and won 12 of their 19 games, a feat only matched by Lanus. However, that crucial 1-0 defeat at Velez consigned them to an impressive, if ultimately frustrating runners-up finish.
Third place went to Lanus, who were the team with most points spanning the Apertura 2008 and Clausura 2009. Under the guidance of 28-year-old coach Luis Zubeldia, and with a squad of mainly home-grown players, Lanus finished just two points behind champions Velez and boasted the competition's top scorer in Jose Sand.
Huracan's fantastic performance aside, three other teams were notable for exceeding pre-season expectations. The first of these were newly-promoted Godoy Cruz, who played excellent football at times under coach Diego Cocca and comfortably avoided the threat of relegation by amassing 26 points. Racing Club were another team expected to battle against the drop, only to burst into life following the appointment of coach Ricardo Caruso Lombardi and end the Clausura in fifth spot. Fellow surprise packages Colon, for their part, were grateful for the goals of former Derby County forward Esteban Fuertes for their fourth-placed finish.
There can be little doubt that the Clausura 2009 was one to forget for Argentina's biggest clubs, with the exception of Racing's successful fight against relegation. River Plate, who finished rock-bottom in the Apertura 2008, could only finish eighth this time around. San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors, meanwhile, ended the season in 11th and 14th respectively, with both heavyweights changing their coaches during the course of the campaign. Independiente, who have won a record seven Copa Libertadores titles, ended their worst-ever season in 16th spot, while Tucuman outfit San Martin and Gimnasia de Jujuy joined the ranks of Nacional B.
The main men
The champions' success was built around a solid defence led by young Nicolas Otamendi, the midfield talents of the diminutive Maxi Moralez and the goals of Uruguayan frontrunner Rodrigo Lopez. Huracan, for their part, were spurred on by a golden triumvirate of Mario Bolatti, Matias De Federico and the class in front of goal of Javier Pastore. Daniel Montenegro's tally of 12 goals in a struggling Independiente side is worthy of note, as is the dozen notched by the well-travelled Fuertes of Colon. Also underlining their excellent recent form were Lanus's Sebastian Blanco and Godoy Cruz's Leandro Caruso.
Jose Sand, top scorer in the Apertura 2008 with 15 goals, helped himself to 13 in the Clausura 2009 to become the first player for 30 years to lead the scoring charts in two consecutive tournaments. The last man to achieve the feat in Argentina was none other than Diego Maradona.
Did you know?
The Clausura 2009 will go down in history as the first in which Argentinian referees used spray foam to mark out the distance defensive walls must retreat at free-kicks. The end result was 28 free-kick goals, compared to just 20 in the Apertura 2008.
What they said
"When we joined Velez our aim was to fashion a team in a similar way to how the all-conquering 1990s side was built. I asked the players to draw on that aggression and that attitude, the fighting spirit that any player wearing this shirt must have. They took the message on board and we lived up to the club's history," Velez Sarsfield coach Ricardo Gareca.
1. Velez Sarsfield (40 points)
2. Huracan (38)
3. Lanus (38)
4. Colon (34)
5. Racing Club (30)
1. Jose Sand (13)
2. Daniel Montenegro (12)
3. Esteban Fuertes (12)
Gimnasia de Jujuy
Gimnasia La Plata-Atletico Rafaela