Can anyone stop Boca?
After remaining unbeaten throughout their victorious Apertura 2011 campaign and keeping hold of their entire first-choice starting XI during the close season, Boca Juniors are heavy favourites to add the Clausura 2012 to their collection. That said, several of Argentina's perennial contenders also avoided an exodus of their own star names, and are thus preparing to push Los Xeneizes all the way. FIFA.com previews the forthcoming competition.
Under the guidance of Julio Cesar Falcioni, Boca were defensively solid and clinical up front throughout the Apertura 2011. Indeed, the Buenos Aires giants conceded just six goals in 19 games and finished 12 points ahead of their closest challengers. Their unbeaten campaign means they have now gone 30 competitive games without defeat, a run that stretches back to April 2011.
These statistics and the fact they can call on virtually the same first-team squad adds plenty of weight to their favourites’ tag, though competing on three fronts – the Copa Libertadores, the new Copa Argentina and the Clausura – will surely test them to the limit.
Facing a similar dilemma are Velez Sarsfield and Lanus, both of whom, like Boca, kept hold of their key men but must also juggle domestic and Libertadores commitments. Ricardo Gareca’s Velez, who finished third in the Apertura, would seem to have a squad boasting greater depth and experience than Mauro Camoranesi's Lanus. Already out of the Copa Argentina, the latter are struggling with the added weight of expectation now on their shoulders.
Without the Libertadores to concern themselves with, Apertura runners-up Racing Club have all the ingredients to be a force once more, as do Estudiantes. The arrival of Alfio Basile has created a huge buzz around La Academia, and the former Argentina supremo will be keen to get the very best out of dynamic Colombian duo Giovanni Moreno and Teofilo Gutierrez. Estudiantes, for their part, made some smart signings in the close season with a view to thriving in Juan Sebastian Veron’s final six months before retirement. And though El Pincha failed to catch fire in the Apertura, they have yet to lose a game since the November appointment of coach Juan Azconzabal.
Finally, close attention must also be paid to another trio of clubs with plenty of potential: Ramon Diaz’s Independiente, Nery Pumpido’s Godoy Cruz and an Argentinos Juniors side coached by Nestor Gorosito.
Did you know?
As is the case at the end of every full season, which consists of an Apertura and a Clausura, automatic relegation will result for those teams in 19th and 20th place in the promedio (average points) table, calculated over the past three years. These bottom two are then replaced by the top two from the Primera B Nacional. The clubs in 17th and 18th spot, meanwhile, will have the opportunity to preserve their top-flight status via two-legged play-offs with the third- and fourth-placed sides from the B Nacional.
Of the country’s traditional heavyweights, San Lorenzo run the greatest risk of following in the footsteps of River Plate – relegated after the Clausura 2011 – and start the Clausura 2012 in the promedio’s play-off places. Also facing a battle to stay clear of the drop zone will be Olimpo, Tigre, All Boys and recently promoted Union Santa Fe, San Martin and Atletico Rafaela. The latter trio all performed admirably in the Apertura 2011, though the relegation format gives them little margin for error.
The main movers
Just like six months ago, Estudiantes made the biggest splash in a transfer window that, for the first time, permitted clubs to bring in only two new faces instead of four. El Pincha acted decisively to recruit goalkeeper Mariano Andujar and attacking midfielder Enzo Perez from Catania and Benfica respectively, both of whom were members of their squad that won the Libertadores 2009.
Boca and Velez also opted to bring back former stars. While Los Xeneizes added all-action midfielder Pablo Ledesma, who they sold back in 2008, El Fortín sealed a deal for goal-getter Mauro Obolo, who returns to the club after no fewer than eight years away.
As is so often the case, proven scorers were in high demand during this transfer window. Proof of that trend lies in Ernesto Farias touching down at Independiente, Uruguayan duo Carlos Bueno and Sebastian Balsas’s moves to San Lorenzo and Argentinos Juniors respectively, Paraguayan Federico Santander joining Racing Club and Colombian forward Marco Perez signing for Belgrano.
Nevertheless, arguably the most intriguing aspect of the window was the startling lack of departures to the European game. Just one man, former Belgrano star Franco Vazquez, jetted off to the Old Continent, where he joins up with Italian outfit Palermo in a switch already agreed back in mid-2011.
11 - This is the number of Argentinian short tournaments that have passed since a single team won two championships in a row. Funnily enough, however, the last side to achieve the feat were Boca Juniors, when they picked up the Apertura 2005 and Clausura 2006. Since then, three different teams have all won two non-consecutive titles: Boca, Velez and Estudiantes.
What they said
Juan Sebastian Veron on Juan Roman Riquelme naming Estudiantes as the title favourites: “What Riquelme said is a way of taking some of the pressure off a Boca squad that are solid and have strengthened very well. We can also name Velez, Lanus, Racing and even Independiente [as contenders]. Just behind that group there’s a chasing pack of sides, which includes us."