The end of the domestic football season is almost upon us, and while we still don’t have a clue what format (or which TV channels) we’ll be watching the Argentine league in next season (this week’s Hand Of Pod explains why), that uncertainty doesn’t stop the end-of-season drama on the pitch. It’ll be thrilling, as long as you pick your matches carefully…
When’s Messi Playing?
Having won La Liga last weekend, Lionel Messi’s Barcelona is going for the domestic double this weekend, and will face Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium at 4:30 PM Argentine time on Sunday. That’s 9:30 PM on a Sunday night in Spain, a few hundred kilometers from the cities both teams call home. And you thought it was only in Argentina that the organizers don’t care about the fans… if you’re in Argentina (or elsewhere in South America), you’ll find the match on DirecTV channel 1610.
Which Matches Can I Safely Ignore In The Primera División This Weekend?
Let’s get these out of the way first, this week. The temporary Primera structure for this transitional campaign was always going to throw up a lot of dead rubbers in the last week or two. The first thing to say is that even these games still have something riding on them: Argentina’s relegation system runs over a three-year points average, and while there have been mutterings of finally doing away with it next season, there have also been whispers that it will be kept — and that it might be used to relegate as many as 10 teams in one go this time next year. That being the case, points won this weekend might prove very important further down the line.
With that still very much up in the air, though, we’ve got to suspect there’s a strong chance that even teams in the lower half of the average points table will be mentally on holiday, while for stronger sides in no danger of relegation motivation will be even harder to come by. To that end there are some games you can avoid unless you’re a fan of one of the teams involved, and they are:
Arsenal v River Plate (Friday, 8 PM); Tigre v Aldosivi (Friday, 9 PM); Vélez Sarsfield v Patronato (Saturday, 8 PM); Quilmes v Independiente (Saturday, 8 PM); Boca Juniors v Defensa y Justicia (Sunday, 6:30 PM); Lanús v Huracán (Sunday, 8:45 PM); Belgrano v Rosario Central (Monday, 7 PM), and Gimnasia v Colón (Monday, 9:15 PM).
Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted I’ve left one dead rubber out of that list; that’s because Racing v Temperley (Saturday, 5:30 PM) will be Diego Milito’s final game, and as Racing’s biggest legend of recent decades, he’s going to get a hell of a send-off. If you’re a sucker for a heartfelt standing ovation and (probably) tears in the post-match interview, you could do worse than find the time to watch this one.
That Leaves Six Games Worth Watching!
We’ll take them chronologically. On Saturday, the relegation berth will be decided, and last weekend’s results mean there are two teams in the running: Argentinos Juniors and Sarmiento. Both play away, and both at 3:15 PM, Argentinos against Atlético de Rafaela and Sarmiento against Olimpo. Both have been in the Primera for the same amount of time, so the point-averaging mathematics is simple: Sarmiento currently has a two-point advantage. If Argentinos doesn’t win, it’s down; if it does, then a Sarmiento win relegates Argentinos, a Sarmiento defeat relegates Sarmiento, and a draw in Bahía Blanca would mean Argentinos and Sarmiento finish level and have to play a one-match, neutral venue playoff for the right to remain in the top flight.
Neither game will be pretty, but there should of course be a fair bit of drama. Argentinos has the easier fixture — Atlético de Rafaela is the only team in the league whose points total this year is as low as Argentinos’ own — but not by much, as Sarmiento and Olimpo are both also among the worst sides in the league. Atlético v Argentinos will be on TV Pública, Olimpo v Sarmiento on Canal 9; both will also be on YouTube, so you can watch side-by-side on the Fútbol Para Todos website.
The next pair of games to watch are on Sunday at 4:15 PM, when the remaining place in the championship final will be decided. San Lorenzo, second in Group 1, hosts Banfield; group leader Godoy Cruz is away to San Martín in the Clásico del Cuyo. Godoy Cruz leads only on goal difference, meaning if it matches San Lorenzo’s result it will win the group, unless both teams win and San Lorenzo manages to score eight goals more than Godoy Cruz does, in which case it would finish ahead on goal difference (this would also happen if, say, Godoy Cruz loses by nine goals and San Lorenzo loses by one). Whoever finishes top will play Lanús on Sunday next week to decide the title.
These are going to be much better quality matches than the relegation affairs, and again for those inside Argentina I’d recommend having one on the TV and one on your laptop or tablet, as both will be streamed live as well as televised (San Lorenzo’s game is on Trece, Godoy Cruz’s on TV Pública).
The other important matter is second place in Group 2 (already topped by Lanús, remember). Whoever claims this spot will face a playoff against the runner-up in Group 1. The winner of that playoff will go into next year’s Copa Libertadores group stage. The loser… um, will also go into next year’s Copa Libertadores group stage, unless the 2016 Copa Sudamericana is won by an Argentine team which hasn’t qualified for the Libertadores by any other method. Wow. I’ll have been writing about this league for a decade this November, and now I’ve put it into words I realize that playoff is going to be the most pointless match I’ll ever have had to watch (and there have been a few in the last 10 years).
Anyway, back to the point: whoever finishes second in Group 2 will almost certainly be in next year’s Copa Libertadores, and now it’s time to get excited, because the teams in the running for second place in Group 2 are four times Libertadores winner Estudiantes de La Plata, and… Atlético Tucumán! No offence, Estudiantes, but I know who I’ll be cheering for. Both teams play at 6:30 PM on Sunday (yes, that’s the same time as the Boca game. And the AFA wonder why TV ratings aren’t as high as they should be). Estudiantes is away to Unión de Santa Fe; an unpredictable team on a six-match unbeaten run which has won its last three home games in a row. Atlético Tucumán is away to Newell’s Old Boys, who’ll want to give Maxi Rodríguez a big send-off in what will surely be his last game for the club (and possibly the last game of his career), but a team which is burdened with the considerable handicap of not being particularly good at football. Unión v Estudiantes is on Crónica (you know Crónica has a TV channel, right? If you’re just learning this now, you’ve either been doing something right with your time in Argentina, or have been hugely missing out. I’m not really sure which), Newell’s v Atlético Tucumán is on TV Pública.
And that’s it for the final weekend preview of the season! I’ll be back next week to preview the championship final, as well as history’s most pointless Copa Libertadores playoff and possibly a relegation showdown, if one is needed. Enjoy the weekend’s matches!