Big guns bow to Banfield
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The curtain came down on another league championship in Argentina this week with unfancied Banfield celebrating victory. El Taladro’s Apertura success not only gave the club their first major trophy in their 113-year history, it also dealt another blow to the hegemony of the country’s traditional big five – Boca Juniors, River Plate, San Lorenzo, Independiente and Racing, not one of whom even secured a Copa Libertadores berth for next season. is on hand to review a championship replete with shocks, big names and no little drama.

The podium
In 2007, Lanus struck a blow for the country’s lesser lights by claiming their maiden league title at no less a fortress than Boca Juniors’ Bombonera. Two years later, it was the turn of Lanus’s arch-rivals Banfield who, under the tutelage of Julio Cesar Falcioni, put together a memorable campaign to win their maiden league title at the same ground. All told El Taladro won 12, drew five and lost just two of their 19 fixtures, and also boasted the tournament’s top scorer, the meanest defence and a points tally of 41, the highest of the last three championships.

Falcioni, who led the club to the quarter-finals of the Libertadores in 2005, thus not only won his first silverware as coach, but became the first former goalkeeper to lead a club to league glory in Argentina.

Newell’s Old Boys finished runners-up after going down to San Lorenzo on the final day of the season when a win would have handed them the title. Despite that frustration, it was a valiant effort by Roberto Sensini’s charges who, without the benefit of big-name signings, battled tirelessly all season and would indeed have been worthy champions. Colon of Santa Fe, for their part, finished a highly commendable third under the guidance of Antonio Mohamed.

The disappointments
Once again, the traditional big five fluffed their lines and found themselves with nothing to play for when the season finale came around. Consequently, for the first time since 1983, none qualified for the Copa Libertadores, Latin America’s premier club competition. Huracan and Tigre, who had both been contenders in recent championships, had campaigns to forget, finishing second-last and last respectively in the regular-season standings.

The star men
Although Banfield had the most effective keeper of the tournament in Cristian Luchetti (a mere 11 goals conceded), the team’s championship success owed much to their Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez and Uruguayan front men Santiago Silva and Sebastian Fernandez. Another Charrúa, Antonio Boghossian, was a regular on the score sheet for Newell’s, while Federico Nieto and Dario Gandin did likewise for Colon and Independiente respectively.

Matias Almeyda rejoined the fray after four years away from the game and impressed with his performances for River Plate, where fellow midfielder Diego Buonanotte also gave the Millonario faithful hope for the future. Twenty-one-year-old Nicolas Gaitan, an elegant and incisive attacking midfielder, was this season’s revelation at Boca Juniors, while midfielder Jesus Mendez and striker Gabriel Hauche had memorable campaigns for Rosario Central and Argentinos Juniors respectively.

The top scorer
After a globetrotting career that has seen him line out for 11 clubs in Uruguay, Brazil, Germany and Portugal, front-man Santiago Silva looks to have found the perfect home at Banfield. Tall, strong and opportunistic, El Tanque netted 14 of his side’s 25 strikes to finish the tournament as top marksman.

Did you know?
The 2009 Apertura made history for the number of own goals that were scored – 16 in total, more than the tally of the season’s top scorer. The Paraguayan Ruben Maldonado, of Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, warrants a special mention, having put though his own goal not once but twice this term, against Racing Club and Colon.

The words
“I wouldn’t describe this as a dream fulfilled, but rather the culmination of a lot of hard work. We won this championship because we were the best team in this Apertura – a solid outfit that won wherever it played. We’re dedicating this title to all the people of Banfield, who have an extra reason to celebrate this festive season.” Julio Cesar Falcioni, Banfield coach

The stats
Final standings
1° Banfield (41 points)
2° Newell’s Old Boys (39)
3° Colon (34, +11)
4° Independiente (34, +10)
5° Velez Sarsfield (34, +8)

Top scorers
1° Santiago Silva (14 goals)
2° Federico Nieto (12)
3° Antonio Boghossian (11)
4° Dario Gandín (10)
5° Gabriel Hauche (10)

Qualified for Copa Libertadores
Estudiantes de La Plata
Velez Sarsfield
Newell’s Old Boys