Chicago Addick living in Bermuda
Saturday 17 February 2007
  River Plate 1-0 Lanús Our timing was good because last Sunday was the opening game of what is known as the ‘closing season’ which runs until July. For reasons best explained by the Argentinian FA there are two seasons an opening one from August to December and then a closing one, which runs from February to June, thus there are two annual league champions. The other oddity, though one which the big premiership clubs would love is that teams are relegated based on their previous three season finishes.

River Plate is one of the oldest and most famous football clubs in Argentina, officially known as Los Millionarios, their rivalry with cross-town working class foes Boca Juniors is legendary. Lanús meanwhile are a less fashionable but decent team based in the south of the capital. Rescued from bankruptcy in 1978 they have been regulars in the Primera Division since winning promotion in 1993. They even won the South American equivalent to the UEFA Cup in 1996 and I was impressed with their supporters who made the journey, the 3-4,000 or so tried gainfully to get their songs heard but ultimately went home disappointed.

River’s as their nickname suggests play in the wealthy neighbourhood of Nunez in the 65,000 capacity Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti, home to the 1978 world cup final. Not much has probably changed since the late 70’s, classified as the only all-seater stadium in the country the best seats resemble park benches and the faded red and white bowl is in desperate need of a lick of paint.

However the River fans sure know how to make a noise and with seemingly every fan decked in red and white and owning a flag of king size bed sheet proportions the stadium reached fever pitch at about half an hour before kick off. Elaborate songs were sung in full voice choreographed by the barrabrava behind one goal complete with flares and drums.

In a lesson to us all the River fans backed the team throughout the whole game, never getting on the players backs despite what appeared a mediocre performance.

The first half passed without any incident and River, managed by world cup legend Daniel Passarella, were labouring and finding it hard to penetrate a solid Lanus defence. The 2nd half was far better but River’s play seemed to over rely on their star midfielder Belluschi and a habit to cross the ball from far too deep. In fact as the game wore on Lanús looked more and more dangerous on the break and I could see them snatching it but as so often happens, whatever league you are watching, the big boys finally broke through in injury time when following another Belluschi corner the ball broke to right back Eduardo Tuzzio on the edge of the box and his skillfully hooked the ball in the send 56,000 Millionarios crazy.

The most outstanding player on the pitch for me was River’s new Colombian signing Nelson Rivas, who marshalled his defence with real panache and did not put a foot wrong all game. Midway through the 2nd half the crowd all stood to applause him as yet again he whisked the ball of a Lanús attacker and nonchantly passed to one of his own players.

Being at the game was a wonderful experience. The game of course was slow and methodical, with sudden spurts of pace in the last third. The crowd "ole" every piece of skill and ruefully whistled every stray pass or mistake.

The crowd noise in an open bowl with not a covered end in sight was amazing as song after song rung around the old stadium. It is said that half of county support either River Plate or Boca Juniors, and it is hard to imagine how the other 10 teams in Buenos Aries compete for media coverage. River have not won a league for 4 years but started the Clausura as favourites. It sure was a good start.

Footnote: I was mightily surprised to read this article a few days after the game. Indeed we were warned by everyone to be careful before, during and after the match. We took advice and avoided the entradas populares (behind the goal) and sat in the plateas (fixed seats) and there were obviously many foreigners sitting in our area as well as families. The crowd was very partisan and you would not want to be cheering the opposing team but we felt safe the whole time we were there. However hooliganism is a known Argentinian problem and rivalries run deep and not only with other clubs. The clubs have opening backed their hooligan or barrabrava element with free tickets and travel and have unforgivingly turned a blind eye to troubling events both in and out of their stadiums over the years.

With recent events in Italy the Argentinian FA are finally being forced to act and River’s famous stadium could be closed down indefinitely. In fact last week saw violence in a number of other opening league games. On Friday it was announced that River's famous El Monumental will be closed for the next 5 home matches. (more)

River Plate: Juan P. Carrizo; Paulo A. Ferrari; Danilo Gerlo; Nelson Rivas; Eduardo Tuzzio; Diego A. Galván; Leonardo D. Ponzio; Fernando Belluschi; Rubens Sambueza; Radamel Falcao García; Ernesto Farías.
Subs: Bernardo Leyenda; Federico Lussenhoff; Víctor E. Zapata; Nicolás Domingo; Augusto Fernández; Marco Rubén; Sebastián Sciorilli.

Lanús: Carlos G. Bossio; Rodolfo Graieb; Santiago A. Hoyos; Walter D. Ribonetto; Maximiliano Velázquez; Marcos Aguirre; Agustín Pelletieri; Rodrigo Archubi; Sebastián Leto; Lautaro Acosta; Cristian G. Fabbiani.
Subs: Claudio S. Flores; Javier A. Almirón; Nelson F. Benítez; Eduardo Ledesma; Diego Valeri; Diego Lagos; Santiago Biglieri.

Attendance: 60,000
Photograph's to follow 

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After living in Chicago for four and a half years, I moved to the beautiful if bewildering island of Bermuda in July 2008. This blog is about being an exiled and depressed Charlton Athletic fan and whatever else the day brings.
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