Three titles decided, Palermo signs off
It was party time in the Americas this week, with Velez Sarsfield clinching the Argentinian Clausura, and Nacional of Montevideo and Universidad de Chile sealing title triumphs in Uruguay and Chile respectively. In Brazil the corks were also popping at Vasco da Gama as new signing Juninho Pernambucano made his return to the club, while veteran sharpshooter Martin Palermo put in a farewell appearance at La Bombonera. FIFA.com has all the latest news from the region in its weekly round-up.
Argentina: V is for victory, V is for Velez
Velez Sarsfield sealed the 2011 Clausura championship with a 2-0 win at Huracan, the team they also beat to win their last title, the 2009 Clausura. A Santiago Silva header and a David Ramirez penalty gave Ricardo Gareca’s side the points they needed, all in front of an empty stadium that was closed as punishment for incidents there a few weeks ago. However, Velez had to wait until well after final whistle before learning the title was theirs, confirmation coming with Lanus’ 1-0 defeat at home to Argentinos Juniors, which left Lanus four points adrift with only one game remaining and triggered jubilant scenes at the Villa Olimpica, Velez’s training ground. “We deserve this because we’re the best team in Argentina,” said midfielder Ricky Alvarez afterwards.
There are still plenty of issues to be resolved down at the bottom, where relegation is decided by a points average calculated over three seasons. Everybody’s favourites to go down a few weeks ago, Quilmes, gave themselves renewed hope by beating San Lorenzo 2-0 away, though they remain bottom. Huracan’s defeat to Velez and Gimnasia’s reverse at the hands of All Boys have kept El Cervecero in with a chance of survival, while Olimpo and the mighty River Plate are still in danger of the drop after respective 1-1 draws against Newell’s Old Boys and Estudiantes.
The weekend came to an end with a farewell party at La Bombonera, where Boca Juniors idol Martin Palermo ran out for one last time in front of his adoring fans. To mark the occasion, El Loco, who has struck no fewer than 306 goals in his career, sported a specially commissioned jersey bearing a gold-painted No9. Watching from the stands were his family and Diego Maradona, as the legendary striker and his team-mates extended their lengthy unbeaten run with a 1-1 draw with Banfield.
USA: East rides high again
Eastern Conference trio New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire and Sporting Kansas City brought an end to their respective winless runs at the weekend. The men from the Big Apple, who had not tasted victory since 30 April, downed New England Revolution 2-1 to pull level on points with conference leaders Philadelphia Union. Without a win in 11 games, the Fire overcame Columbus Crew thanks to a solitary Cristian Nazarit strike, while Kansas, the team below them at the bottom of the table, prevailed for the first time in ten outings, with a Graham Zusi brace helping them to a 4-1 victory at FC Dallas.
One side who seem to have lost the winning habit are Western leaders Los Angeles Galaxy, who were held at home for the second game running after Alan Gordon scored deep in injury time to give Toronto FC a 2-2 draw. “We’ve got to manage the game at the end. It’s quite simple," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. "We have a bunch of guys standing around. We got out-competed on that play.”
Brazil: Sao Paulo sides stay strong
Though most teams are still feeling their way into the newly begun Brazilian championship, one thing has already become clear after only four games: Sao Paulo’s representatives will be strong contenders this season. The top three positions are filled by clubs from the state, although Paulista champions and Copa Libertadores finalists Santos do not figure among them.
After leaders Sao Paulo maintained their 100 per cent record on Saturday by easing past Gremio 3-1, closest challengers Corinthians and Palmeiras kept their unbeaten starts to the season going, O Timão overcoming Abel Braga’s new club Fluminense 2-0 and O Verdão drawing 2-2 at Internacional.
There was a party atmosphere at the Sao Januario on Saturday evening as Vasco da Gama followed up their Brazilian Cup win on Wednesday by unveiling latest acquisition Juninho Pernambucano, a former idol who has returned to the club after a ten-year absence. Vasco almost made it the perfect night with victory over Figueirense but conceded a last-minute equaliser.
There were a number of other celebrations going on across South America at the weekend. In Chile, Universidad de Chile clinched their 14th league title in a finale that not even their most optimistic fans would have dared dream about. Having lost the first leg of their championship play-off final with Universidad Catolica 2-0, La U hit back in the return match, winning 4-1 thanks in no small part to Gustavo Canales’ hat-trick.
There was a tense denouement in Uruguay, where Clausura winners Nacional faced off against Apertura victors Defensor Sporting to decide the overall champion for the season. With 19 minutes gone, Tabare Viudez gave El Bolso the lead, one they successfully protected to pay the best possible tribute to defender Diego Rodriguez, who died in a car crash last year, and Argentinian playmaker Marcelo Gallardo, who has retired from the game at the age of 35.
Over in Colombia, meanwhile, La Equidad got the better of Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the league play-off final, with Juan Gilberto Nunez and Edwin Rivas scoring their goals in a 2-1 home win that gives them the edge going into next Saturday’s decider in Medellin.
Finally, in Ecuador Emelec gave themselves a chance of taking the title by disposing of Liga de Loja 4-1, a result that took them two points clear of Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, who could only draw 0-0 with Barcelona de Guayaquil but still have one game in hand. LDU are in action in midweek against Deportivo Quito before taking on Olmedo next weekend, when Emelec will be up against bottom club ESPOLI.