November coming to an end means that South American football is at a crucial part of the season and as such the championship is just one round of fixtures away from being decided, promotion places are being won, the Copa Argentina has a new champion and River face a Copa Sudamericana final. We look back on a busy month and select our Manager, Player and Goal of the Month.
Just one round of fixtures separates Racing Club from capturing the Torneo Transición title, their first trophy since the 2001 Apertura. A staggering run of results, including victory over River Plate has seen them catch and eventually surpass their rivals. Diego Cocca’s side will host Godoy Cruz on December 14th at the same time as River travel to Quilmes knowing that victory will ensure them of the crown.
For the majority of this season, it has been River Plate drawing all of the plaudits but eventually the distraction of the Copa Sudamericana and a colossal Semi Final against Boca Juniors took its toll. The points surrendered in the league allowed Racing to take advantage and while it might cost Marcelo Gallardo’s side the title, they are in a continental final for the first time in eleven years.
With only a round remaining in the season, the Torneo Transición ends and signals the beginning of Julio Grondona’s diabolical baby, the 30-team Primera in 2015. This has finally been agreed upon by the AFA and although there are still plenty of unknowns surrounding quite how this will work and for how long, it is happening.
So, with ten extra clubs joining the Primera División, there has been a scramble in the Nacional B to finish in the five promotion places from both Zones A and B. So far, Unión, Temperley, Crucero del Norte and Sarmiento de Junín are all guaranteed a spot while Juan Román Riquelme’s Argentinos Juniors are just a point away from their return.
Another side hoping to among this group are Huracán, who may have found the Nacional B hard work but had no such worries in capturing the Copa Argentina. A penalty shootout victory over Rosario Central saw that El Globo would be in the 2015 Copa Libertadores while their potential status in the top flight remains unknown.
Internationally, Argentina learned their group stage opponents for the 2015 Copa América in Chile. Tata Martino’s boys will be up against Uruguay, Paraguay and Jamaica when it all kicks off in June.
And in preparation for this, La Selección had a couple more friendlies to take care of, this time in England, as they took on Croatia at Upton Park and Portugal at Old Trafford. Carlos Tevez made his return, rather unspectacularly, and Argentina managed a 2-1 win over Croatia but suffered a late defeat to Portugal.
Lionel Messi featured in both rather dull matches but back in Barcelona, it was business as usual, as the four-time Ballon d’or winner smashed two further significant records. Finally, Messi caught Telmo Zarra’s La Liga scoring record and less than a week later with another hat-trick he broke Raúl’s Champions League record.
With these records fresh in our minds, Messi has now been announced as one of the three players on FIFA’s shortlist for this year’s Ballon d’or. Alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Manuel Neuer, Messi is perhaps an outside bet this year but we will see next month.
Sadly, as is often the case in Argentina, this month was marred by several incidents of violence and an alarming number of deaths. In most cases, the story was all to similar as internal barra brava power struggles led to bloody incidents on the streets.
But without further ado, here are the picks for this month….
MANAGER OF THE MONTH
It is very hard to argue with what Diego Cocca has done with Racing in November: Five wins out of five, zero goals conceded and nine scored. Crucially a 1-0 win over River in Avellaneda meant Racing leapfrogged them in the table and Sunday’s win away to Rosario Central leaves them on the very brink of a historic league title. Following his promotion with from the Nacional B with Defensa y Justicia, Cocca was perhaps not the obvious candidate to walk into the Racing job at the start of the season, in an Argentine league fixated on plumping for seasoned, old campaigners. After trying that with Mostaza Merlo, Racing opted for a change and went with the 42-year-old Cocca. A new Primera, led by several good young managers has resulted in more dynamic, attacking football and Cocca could be about to claim the big prize.
PLAYER OF THE MONTH
While Diego Cocca should rightly receive praise for this management skills, the impact of Diego Milito’s return to Racing cannot be understated. Already a club legend, after coming through the youth ranks to be part of the side that won the 2001 Apertura, Milito has been the on-field catalyst behind Racing’s resurgence. 6 goals in total, two in Sunday’s crucial win against Rosario Central but a role in the side that far outweighs just his goals. Gustavo Bou has emerged as a genuine goal scorer, a million miles away from the rather hopeless looking striker that River remember and Milito deserves enormous credit for this. It is little surprise that Racing’s minor blip came when Milito went off injured during the Avellaneda clásico and then missed the subsequent matches. Since his return and Racing’s remarkable form, Milito’s experience has been crucial. When those around him could easily have choked under the pressure he has been the calming presence in the side.
GOAL OF THE MONTH
Number of decent contenders for goal of the month in November but finally I have chosen Nicolás Bertolo’s opener for Banfield against River on the final day of the month. Cutting inside from the left Bertolo jinked between Gabriel Mercado and Ezequiel Cirigliano to bend a wonderful shot in off the underside of the bar, leaving Marcelo Barovero no chance.
Honourable mentions to: Gonzalo Verón (San Lorenzo) against Boca; Lucas Licht (Gimnasia) against Independiente; Leandro Fernández (Godoy Cruz) against Atlético Rafaela; Mauricio Cuero (Olimpo) against Quilmes; Lucas Zelarrayán (Belgrano) against Defensa y Justicia; Facundo Oreja (Gimnasia) against Banfield; Fede Mancuello (Independiente) against Newell’s Old Boys.