We’ve got a dramatic few weeks coming up in the world of Argentine football. Partly because of the shenanigans at Colón, which you can read about elsewhere on this site, but also because we’ve got a right old ding-dong developing at the top of the championship table.
Newell’s Old Boys lost away to Tigre on Monday night, meaning they dropped off the top of the table for the first time in about two months, and there are now just three points separating the top five or six teams, all of whom still have to play at least one of the others in the remaining three matches (that’s nine points left to play for, for those new to football).
In short, it’s rather a close title race this year. San Lorenzo have the advantage—a thrilling 4-2 win over Belgrano last weekend took them top, and they have the easiest looking run-in—but won’t have it all their own way, because this weekend, they’ve got to visit Asociación Mutual Social y Deportiva Atlético de Rafaela—or Rafaela, as they’ll henceforth be called here, because I’ve only got so much time to spend typing this out—who probably won’t win the title themselves, but will have a huge say in who does.
Rafaela are the dark horses of the race, and the reason I wrote ‘five or six’ in that opening paragraph. At present, they’re down in eighth place of the Torneo Inicial standings, and twenty-four points means they’re fully six adrift of San Lorenzo. But look closer; they’ve only played fifteen matches, to everyone else’s sixteen! The cancellation of their match with Colón on Monday afternoon has made them wildcards here.
According to the AFA’s regulations, the points for that Colón no-show should be awarded to Rafaela (who would have the match recorded as a 1-0 win), and Colón should also be hit with a points deduction. If that happens, Rafaela will move up to twenty-seven points, just three behind San Lorenzo. But this is Argentina, and, eager not to upset Colón any more than they already are (they had six points deducted a few weeks ago for an unpaid transfer fee dating back to 2007), the AFA seem likely to insist the game gets rescheduled, flying in the face of their own rules.
Colón’s outgoing president, Germán Lerche (who stood down immediately after Monday’s events), is a good friend and the right hand man of AFA president Julio Grondona, in case you were wondering just why the AFA might want to give Colón more support than they’d perhaps afford to some other clubs in similar situations.
The truth is that Colón are so crap, Rafaela will probably win that game anyway. So if they manage to beat San Lorenzo at the weekend, they’ll have to be talked about as title candidates, which would be incredible—by most measures, they’re surely either the smallest or the second-smallest club in the Primera (Bahía Blanca-based Olimpo might run them close for that ‘honor’). And, ‘if they beat San Lorenzo,’ isn’t an empty hypothesis, in spite of San Lorenzo’s good form; Rafaela have claimed sixteen of the last eighteen points they’ve played for in their own stadium. The only match of those six that they’ve failed to win was a 0-0 draw against River Plate, and River’s attack might be rubbish, but their defense, when at full strength, is very strong.
Rafaela v San Lorenzo isn’t the only big title clash this weekend, though. That game’s played on Saturday evening, and on Sunday afternoon Newell’s will host Arsenal de Sarandí. Both have gone off form a little lately—Newell’s haven’t won in five matches, whilst Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Boca last weekend was their first after a run of four games without victory—but either, if San Lorenzo slip up against Rafaela, would go top with a win.
San Lorenzo have the edge in terms of consistency and the ease of their last two fixtures, as after this weekend they’ll host Estudiantes de La Plata before ending the season away to Vélez Sarsfield. Neither are easy opponents, but neither are involved at the top end of the table. Even then, though, Vélez v San Lorenzo has become, in recent years, an extremely heated rivalry. Lanús are the side to look out for in terms of form. They’ve won their last five league matches in a row, scoring 14 goals in the process, and that run includes victories over San Lorenzo and Arsenal. Their last two matches? At home against Boca, then away to Newell’s.
Boca have two very winnable home games left, but also that trip to Lanús; Arsenal have two very loseable away matches… and all of this is taking place in one of the least predictable leagues in the world. So, rather than write any more, here’s a breakdown of what matches everyone has left. And a reminder that you can check the current standings here (once the weekend’s football starts on Friday evening with Vélez v Godoy Cruz, that table will get updated after each match).
If two sides finish level on points at the top, they’ll play a one-off match in a neutral venue to decide the championship. If three or more sides finish level on points at the top, the AFA will use a miniature league table of results only in matches between those teams to decide the title. Listing all the matches that have already been played between the sides would get very confusing at this stage, so if this looks like a possibility ahead of the final weekend, I’ll mention it in a new piece.
Not including Colón v Rafaela, here are the remaining matches (title-chasing teams in bold):
This weekend (round 17): Atlético de Rafaela v San Lorenzo; Lanús v Gimnasia; Newell’s v Arsenal; Boca v All Boys
Round 18: Tigre v Rafaela; San Lorenzo v Estudiantes; Lanús v Boca; Newell’s v All Boys; Arsenal v Belgrano
Round 19: Rafaela v Arsenal; Vélez v San Lorenzo; Newell’s v Lanús; Boca v Gimnasia