Argentina's old order plot revival

Domestic football makes its return in Argentina this weekend as the Apertura 2010 clicks into gear. Last season’s Clausura winners Argentinos Juniors can expect a stiff challenge, not least from the nation’s giants, who are aiming to atone for some lacklustre campaigns in recent years.

The defending champions
Los Bichos Colorados surprised everyone in the Clausura, surging to the title and playing some enterprising football along the way. Claudio Borghi, the architect of that unexpected triumph, is now applying his coaching expertise at Boca Juniors, with several key players also having moved on. Taking his place is Pedro Troglio, who has brought goalkeeper Nicolas Navarro and defender Sergio Escudero back to the club as well as recruiting Uruguayan forward Gonzalo Vargas from Atlas of Mexico.

“Many players have gone and though they might seem irreplaceable now, that wasn’t the case before,” commented Troglio, who will also be taking Argentinos into the Copa Sudamericana. “My job from here on in is to make the new players and the ones who’ve stayed on indispensable too. I believe in this team.”

The other contenders
According to the country’s football media, Boca Juniors are the team most likely to relieve Argentinos of their crown, Los Xeneizes having recruited Borghi with that very goal in mind. The 45-year-old has already begun the task of reviving the club’s ailing fortunes, drafting in six new faces, including some of the country’s most outstanding defenders. Borghi can also count on the services of the ageless Martin Palermo, although contract negotiations with playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme are still continuing.

Fellow big guns Racing Club have held on to the core of their Clausura squad and are intent on returning to the top. Meanwhile Independiente, now coached by Daniel Garnero, will be out to improve on last term’s fourth place and San Lorenzo have high hopes ahead of Ramon Diaz’s second campaign at the club.

I haven’t just landed from outer space and I know full well what the situation is here at River. I’m too old to be getting scared.
River Plate coach Angel Cappa

No other team has collected more league titles than River Plate. Champions on 34 occasions, Los Millonarios have also won more games and scored more goals than any other club in the land but begin 2010/11 with the lowest points average in the league, not including the newly-promoted teams. That statistic puts even more pressure on Angel Cappa’s charges, who need to make a concerted push for the title if they are to avoid being relegated for the first time in their glorious history.

Having all qualified for the Copa Sudamericana, Banfield, Estudiantes, Newell’s Old Boys and Velez Sarsfield face a battle on two fronts but should have the resources to figure prominently in the domestic title race.

Did you know?
The Argentinian league is among the most keenly contested in South America, the last eight titles having been won by eight different teams.

Star signings
The transfer market has been especially busy this close season, with the major clubs accounting for a good deal of the trade. Boca Juniors have led the way, snapping up goalkeeper Cristian Lucchetti - a 2009 league champion with Banfield - Estudiantes duo Clemente Rodriguez and Cristian Cellay, and Matias Caruzzo, the man who captained Argentinos to their recent trophy.

Buenos Aires rivals River Plate have strengthened their line-up by luring Juan Pablo Carrizo and Mariano Pavone, while Racing Club have signed Patricio Toranzo and Colombian midfielder Giovanni Moreno. Elsewhere, Lanus sprang a surprise by acquiring Uruguayan forward Mario Regueiro, Velez Sarsfield have brought former River man Augusto Fernandez back from France, and Estudiantes have invested in the services of Uruguayan goal-getter Hernan Rodrigo Lopez. Colon are banking on Joaquin Larrivey and Nicolas Higuain to do the same for them, and Clausura 2009 runners-up Huracan are looking to the experienced pair of Angel Matute Morales and Rolando Zarate to spearhead another championship bid.

Players to watch
Diego Buonanotte (River), Sebastian Battaglia (Boca) and Lucas Licht (Racing) have all recovered from long injury lay-offs and will be hoping to fire their teams’ respective title challenges. Among the youngsters aiming to make a splash are River’s 17-year-old starlet Manuel Lanzini and Boca’s Marcelo Canete, three years his senior.

The stat
147 - The number of signings completed during the current transfer window, a record for the Argentinian league. The busiest shoppers were Quilmes, who have welcomed 19 new players after earning promotion for the ninth time in their history.

What they said
“I haven’t just landed from outer space and I know full well what the situation is here at River. I’m too old to be getting scared and I know we desperately need to start winning. We’re building a team with that objective in mind. I’m deadly serious about that, I can tell you,” River Plate coach Angel Cappa.