Christmas is blue and gold in Argentina
© AFP

The 2011 Apertura could hardly have turned out better for Boca Juniors. With arch-rivals River Plate consigned to the second division, Los Xeneizes romped to their 24th league title, remaining unbeaten and setting a new defensive record in the process. Join FIFA.com as we look back on the highs and lows of the recently concluded Argentinian championship.

Top three
Under considerable pressure before the start of the Apertura, Julio Cesar Falcioni silenced his critics by assembling a team that proved rock-solid in defence. Agustin Orion in goal and Rolando Schiavi at centre-back marshalled a rearguard that was breached just six times in 19 games, a new championship record. At the other end of the pitch, Dario Cvitanich was the team’s top scorer with five goals as Boca overcame a string of injuries to wrap up the title with 12 wins and seven draws – and all this after the retirement of talismanic striker Martin Palermo. The title win ensures that Boca will be competing in one of their favourite competitions again next season: the Copa Libertadores.

Following Boca home in second were Diego Simeone’s Racing Club, who lost just two games out of 19, but also incredibly drew ten matches. An impressive campaign by their defence and star turns from Colombian striker Teofilo Gutierrez and his compatriot Giovanni Moreno in midfield could only get La Academia to within 12 points of Falcioni’s men. Also on 31 points were defending champions Velez Sarsfield, Colon de Santa Fe and one of the season’s revelations, Atletico Belgrano, who managed to keep their squad intact and impress everyone on their first campaign back in the top flight.

The surprises
Nor were Belgrano the only promoted team to make an impact. San Martin de San Juan, Union de Santa Fe and Atletico Rafaela all belied their status as new boys by finishing in the top 11. In contrast, Estudiantes de La Plata made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Accustomed to competing for top spot in recent years, El Pincha won just five games and parted company with their coach Miguel Angel Russo. Disappointed fans at least had the consolation of enjoying another season with their beloved Juan Sebastian Veron, who put off his retirement to compete in the Apertura.

The disappointments
With a scant return of 19 points, San Lorenzo ended their campaign in lowly 17th place. Traditionally one of the country’s big five, El Ciclón currently occupy one of the (three-season averaged) relegation/promotion play-off spots and have until the end of the Clausura 2012 to extract themselves if they are not to jeopardise their top-flight standing. Equally frustrated were Banfield, who finished bottom after three wins, two draws and 13 defeats, despite having brought in respected coach Ricardo La Volpe.

Players of the season
Even though champions Boca stood out for their team performances, special mention must go to Juan Roman Riquelme. The veteran playmaker missed a large part of the campaign through injury, but not before making a sizeable contribution to the team’s early-season form.

On the subject of attacking midfielders, Franco Vazquez, the 22-year-old Belgrano star who joins Italian club Palermo next month, also grabbed his share of headlines. Elsewhere, Colombian striker Teofilo Gutierrez again showed his value for Racing Club, for whom Sebastian Saja had an outstanding campaign in goal. Nor should we forget Tigre’s playmaker Diego Morales, or Colon’s evergreen goalscorer Esteban Fuertes, still going at almost 39. Last, but by no means least, are the Apertura’s top scorers led by Godoy Cruz’s Ruben Ramirez on 12, followed by Paraguay’s Santiago Salcedo (Argentinos Juniors), Mauro Matos (All Boys) and Cesar Pereyra (Belgrano), all on seven.

Did you know?
With his appearance late in the game against All Boys on the final matchday, Sebastian Battaglia won title number 17 with Boca Juniors, setting a club record in the process. The midfielder, who spent time on the books of Spain’s Villarreal, had not played since 20 March this year because of injury.

What they said
“I’m thrilled because we achieved all the goals we set ourselves. We accumulated more points this year than any other side and entered the record books by going the entire championship unbeaten with one of the lowest goals-against tallies in history. We managed to avoid all the pitfalls, and things turned out as well as we’d hoped,” Boca Juniors coach Julio Falcioni

Stats
Final Standings
1st Boca Juniors (43 points)
2nd Racing Club (31)
3rd Velez Sarsfield/Belgrano de Cordoba (31)

Top Scorers
Ruben Ramírez (Godoy Cruz, 12)
Santiago Salcedo (Argentinos Juniors, 7)
Mauro Matos (All Boys, 7)

Qualified to Copa Libertadores 2012
Boca Juniors
Velez Sarsfield
Lanus
Godoy Cruz
Arsenal

Qualified to Copa Sudamericana 2012
Independiente
Racing Club
Tigre
Argentinos Juniors