Modest Arsenal celebrate first league crown
© AFP

The 2012 Argentinian Clausura tournament built to a thrilling climax, in which the final round of matches decided the champions and determined the fate of the sides battling to avoid the drop.  

History will show that the last short-format tournament to crown an outright champion enabled Arsenal de Sarandi, the most recently founded and least supported club in the top flight, to claim the first domestic title in their 55-year existence.

Coach Gustavo Alfaro assembled his team with the relegation average table in mind. But events elsewhere in the competition gave Arsenal the opportunity to aim higher and, thanks to their low profile and consistent form, they were able to take full advantage. Alfaro was also at the helm in 2007, when the club drew on the same qualities to win the Copa Sudamericana.

Tigre, for their part, started the Clausura with one foot in the second division. But thanks to an impressive campaign, they not only avoided relegation, but also came within a whisker of the title, before ultimately finishing runners-up. It was a similar story for All Boys and Newell’s Old Boys, who fell just short in their respective title bids, but gave their relegation averages a welcome boost for the future.

Third place went to Velez Sarsfield. Velez finished with a superior goal difference to Boca Juniors, who, with three rounds remaining, appeared to have their second league title of the season in the bag. The Clausura competition was also marked by the relegation of Olimpo and Banfield, a dramatic escape for San Lorenzo and the retirements of Juan Sebastian Veron, Gabriel Milito and Esteban Fuertes.

The revelations
Lisandro Lopez (Arsenal)
At just 22, Lopez was one of the stand-out performers in a young Arsenal side. The centre-back capped a brilliant campaign by scoring the goal that clinched the title against Belgrano. Alongside Guillermo Burdisso, brother of Roma defender Nicolas, Licha helped form one of the three meanest defensive pairings in the championship, with 15 goals conceded, and emerged as a real international prospect.

Carlos Luna (Tigre)
Luna’s 12 goals not only played a vital role in keeping Tigre in the Primera Division, but they also ensured El Chino finished as top scorer for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old former Racing Club and Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito player is in his third spell with Tigre, and now lies eighth in the club’s list of all-time leading marksmen with 59 goals.

The number
38
– The number of points with which Arsenal won the title. Their total came from 11 wins (the best win record in the competition), five draws and only three defeats. However, Arsenal’s championship-winning points tally is the joint second lowest in a short-format tournament since the switch to award three points for victories. 2007 Apertura champions Lanus are the other side to have won the title with 38 points. Only Newell’s Old Boys have been crowned champions on fewer points, with their total of 36 enough to clinch the Apertura title in 2004.

The memorable moments
11 March 2012 – In the fifth round of matches, leaders Boca Juniors hosted Independiente, who went to the Bombonera without a point on the board and with Cristian Diaz as their interim coach, following the resignation of Ramon Diaz. What looked like a mismatch on paper turned out, in fact, to be the best game of the competition. El Rojo led 2-0 and then 3-1, only for Los Xeneizes to turn the game around and take the lead with 15 minutes left. However, Ernesto Farias scored in the 88th and 93rd minutes to seal his hat-trick and secure an unforgettable 5-4 victory for the visitors, bringing to an end Boca’s 33-game unbeaten league run.

31 March 2012 – Visitors Banfield inflicted a heavy 5-2 defeat on Olimpo in what would prove to be their last victory in the Primera Division. El Taladro, Apertura champions in 2009, followed that win with three draws and eight defeats, a run that saw them slide down into the second tier after 11 years in the top flight. The eighth matchday also featured a 3-0 victory for Boca Juniors against Estudiantes in La Plata. The result took Boca back to the top of the table, where they would remain for nine of the 12 remaining rounds.

25 May 2012 – Four rounds from the end of the competition, San Martin came from 2-0 down in San Juan to beat Olimpo 3-2, condemning the latter to the second division for the third time in six years. Two days later, San Lorenzo beat Newell’s Old Boys by the same margin to pick up valuable points in their survival quest, and in doing so leave Gerardo Martino’s side further adrift of the frontrunners. Arsenal, meanwhile, drew 1-1 with Estudiantes in La Plata, prompting coach Alfaro to declare: “If we win our three remaining matches, we’re the champions.”

17 June 2012 – In the penultimate round of matches, a brace from Luciano Leguizamon helped Arsenal to a convincing 3-0 victory over Boca at the Bombonera, and moved them two points above Los Xeneizes at the top of the Clausura table. The result took Arsenal level at the summit with Tigres, who had won away to Velez the day before. At the other end of the table, San Lorenzo slipped down into the automatic relegation places.

24 June 2012 – Seven crucial games took place on the final matchday. Arsenal beat Belgrano 1-0 and celebrated the title after learning that Tigre had only managed a 2-2 draw with Independiente. El Matador were unable to find a winner but, along with Atletico Rafaela, they still managed to avoid the promotion-relegation play-offs.

Forward Esteban Fuertes ended his career on a high with two goals in Colon’s victory over Banfield, which confirmed El Taladro’s relegation to the second tier. The result gave San Lorenzo, who beat San Martin, a place in the promotion-relegation play-offs along with their defeated opponents. Both sides later won their respective showdowns to remain in the top flight.

Juan Sebastian Veron received an ovation at the end of his side’s draw with Santa Fe – the final game of his career. Veron bowed out shortly after Gabriel Milito had announced his retirement, with the latter unable to play in the final round of matches due to injury.