Velez conquer as big five crash
There was much more to the Clausura 2011 than Velez Sarsfield’s latest title, not least Martin Palermo’s farewell and the travails of River Plate, who must now defend their top-flight status in a play-off against second-division opposition. FIFA.com reviews those stories and more from a breathless season in Argentina.
The top three
Velez Sarsfield proved they are in a class of their own by landing a deserved eighth crown with a record of 12 wins, three draws and four defeats. Ricardo Gareca’s side clinched the championship with two games to spare, securing the points they needed against Huracan, the team they beat to win their last league trophy, the Clausura 2009. El Fortín, who also made it to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, outscored everyone with 36 goals and tallied 13 points more in the combined Apertura 2010/Clausura 2011 table than closest challengers Estudiantes.
Taking second place behind them were Lanus, a fine achievement for Gabriel Schurrer in his first complete league competition as coach. Los Granates, the Apertura 2007 winners, came close to securing only their second championship but ultimately paid for their patchy early form. Coached by the Uruguayan Jorge da Silva in his first job in Argentina, Godoy Cruz completed the podium in third.
The recently promoted All Boys and Olimpo held on to their places in the elite, to the surprise of many. More than holding their own with some enterprising football, the unfancied duo exceeded expectations, with All Boys amassing a healthy 25 points and ensuring their survival with two games left, while the men from Bahia Blanca performed even better, collecting 30 points to finish fourth.
The country’s big five - Boca Juniors, Independiente, Racing, River Plate and San Lorenzo - have flattered to deceive in recent seasons and the Clausura 2011 was no exception. No member of the famous quintet won more than seven games, with Independiente finishing the highest of them all in a modest sixth place. One slot below them and just outside the Copa Sudamericana qualification berths came Boca, a poor return on their sizeable transfer outlay, while cross-town rivals River Plate will be playing second-tier football next season if they lose their relegation/promotion play-off against Atletico Belgrano, the first leg of which is on Wednesday. Though Los Millonarios finished fifth over the course of the Apertura/Clausura season as a whole – this despite scoring an all-time club low of 15 goals in the Clausura campaign – their poor showings in previous seasons have come back to haunt them. Meanwhile, Racing Club and San Lorenzo finished an underwhelming 14th and 15th respectively.
Catching the eye alongside leading goalscorers Javier Campora and Teofilo Gutierrez was attacking midfielder David Ramirez, who top-scored for Velez despite starting most of their games on the bench. Also starring for the champions were goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero and midfield revelation Ricardo Alvarez. Elsewhere, Diego Valeri excelled for Lanus, and Carlos Sanchez and Diego Villar set the tempo for Godoy Cruz. Cristian Chavez’s flair lit up Boca’s otherwise unexceptional season, and Facundo Parra provided a steady supply of goals for Independiente.
Few people expected Huracan’s Campora and Racing Club’s Gutierrez to top the scoring charts, the unsung duo notching 11 goals apiece. The man from El Globo showed what he could do with Tiro Federal back in 2005, but distinguished himself in a team that must now beat Gimnasia in a one-off game to avoid a relegation/promotion play-off with San Martin. Colombian Gutierrez’s tally was made all the more impressive by the fact he arrived at La Academia after the season had begun.
Did you know?
Martin Palermo retired from the game at the end of the Clausura, having become the fifth-highest scorer of the professional era with 227 goals. In reward for his contribution to the club, the Boca Juniors board presented him with a very special gift: one of the goals at La Bombonera.
What they said
“We know there’s a debate going on about which teams are the biggest in Argentina and there’s nothing we can do about that. All we can say is that we feel Velez deserve to form part of the group now. We have no doubt we’re a big club,”
Ricardo Gareca, Velez coach.