There’s rarely a dull moment in Argentine football (off the pitch, at least), and 2015 was as tumultuous as ever. We had a calendar-year championship which will remain a complete one-off (we’ll transition back to an August-June season in 2016), and more highs and lows than a roller coaster. But some stories stood out more than others, and here they are.
That championship, first of all. Thirty teams. Thirty! As manifestly stupid an idea as it obviously was right from the start, there was no getting around the fact that the Primera División was going to have to go ahead with the expansion for at least one campaign – Julio Grondona, the Argentine Football Association president whose grand idea it was, had the selfishness to die just too late for the whole thing to be scrapped. As it is, we’ll have a thirty-team top flight for another eighteen months before it starts shrinking again, but this year did at least produce a decent title race and some good football, at least from the top teams. Unfortunately for the dignity of the Argentine top flight, it also means Crucero Del Norte will be able to tell everyone, for the rest of their existence, that they were once a Primera team. And my word, they were crap.
In March, Boca Juniors and River Plate were pitched together by the Copa Libertadores knockout system, and everyone got a bit carried away. No news there, I hear you say – and you’d be right. People always get a bit carried away when these two clash. But like an eager-to-please cat who thinks you’ll really appreciate the (not-quite) dead bird she’s just brought in from the garden, there’s always some idiot who takes things just a bit too far. It turns out that whilst chanting, trading insults and making things generally unpleasant for the away team is all fair in love and football, spraying opposing players with a nasty-sounding mixture of pepper spray and battery acid apparently isn’t okay. I know what you’re thinking – it’s a fine line and who among us can honestly say we haven’t strayed close to it at some point? Hmm? Ah, that’s right – none of us ever have, because we’re not deeply horrible human beings. As a result of the incident Boca were thrown out of the Copa Libertadores and River (who were leading 1-0 on aggregate with the second half of the second leg left to play) advanced to the quarter-finals.
From the quarter-finals, River just kept going, and in August they got a 3-0 second leg win over Mexican club Tigres to lift the Copa Libertadores for the third time in their history, nineteen years after their second.
Before that Libertadores final, though, there was the Copa América. Argentina was the favorite pre-tournament, having reached the World Cup final in Brazil a year before, but eventually had to settle for the runner-up spot after losing to host nation Chile in a penalty shootout. During the tournament, Carlos Tevez’s transfer from Italian giant Juventus back to Boca Juniors was announced. We’ll come back to that…
In September, then-governor of Buenos Aires Province Daniel Scioli (remember him?) announced that Argentine top flight league matches would welcome back away fans, albeit on a very limited basis. The new measure still hasn’t yet been applied widely enough, but a little bit of the color has been brought back to the game, at least.
Argentina’s World Cup qualifying campaign for Russia 2018 got off to an awful start in October when the national team lost 1-0 to Ecuador to record only its second ever defeat in the Estadio Monumental, and its first for 22 years. A draw away to Paraguay days later did little to brighten the mood. A month later, the qualifier at home to Brazil was totally washed out, and had to be postponed 24 hours (they eventually drew 0-0).
Remember I mentioned Tevez earlier? He was the star man in the second half of the year as he led Boca Juniors to a league and cup double, including a highly controversial win over Rosario Central in the final of the Copa Argentina.
And last but not least, the AFA met in early December to decide who would be their new president, and after a secret ballot among the 75 club representatives, the winner was… ah. Can you ask us again some time in 2016?
Did I say ‘last’? Okay, one more, so we can end on a positive note. No annual review of Argentine football would be complete without a compilation video of Lionel Messi goals. So here is one, of what someone thinks are his ten best goals in 2015 (for Barcelona). Backed by some sort of electro-bagpipe music, for some reason. No, I haven’t a clue either.
For more articles in this series, check out the following: