With 2015 drawing to a close, the temperature creeping up and the nation’s football wearily drifting towards its annual summer siesta, it is time to look back on a busy year of action in Argentina. For the first time since 1991, it is a year-long season, rather than the short tournament format that has dominated modern Argie-ball, that we review and a year on, still as ridiculous as ever, it is a 30-team top flight that we dissect. Argentina’s two heavyweights celebrated historic years, the national team endured further heartache and there was the type of farcical drama that very few other leagues can muster.
In the height of the summer in Argentina, those that are able to flock to the beach and Buenos Aires’ football teams are no different, with most switching the humidity of the city for pre-season training in Mar del Plata. Aside from the incessant transfer gossip it is a quiet time for even the most fantical of Argentine football followers but there has always been one man with the ability to snatch the headlines at this time of year. The enigmatic Juan Román Riquelme had just completed a season back where his career had begun, assisting Argentinos Juniors back up into the Primera and in addition to enjoying the odd asado, the legendary number 10 normally toys with the nation’s press over where he might ply his trade during the summer pre-season period. 2015 was different however as Román announced his retirement from the game, giving football fans around the globe the opportunity to gorge themselves on Riquelme youtube compilations.
As one chapter of Argentina’s past closed, another of Argentina’s future opened. The under-20s, were in action in the South American Championships and it heralded Ángel Correa’s remarkable return from career threatening heart surgery. The Atlético Madrid youngster led Los Pibes to a fifth Sudamericano triumph and made senior boss Gerardo Martino take note.
The series of summer tournaments and the ensuing supercashicos are not usually worthy of print but February’s clash between Boca and River in Mendoza produced an early boost for Rodolfo Arruabarrena and the Xeneize nation. After having to endure River’s resurgence in 2014, the 5-0 friendly win was celebrated almost like a league title but it was to prove just the beginning for Boca.
River though had their own reason to cheer a little later in the month when they lifted the Recopa title after victory against Copa Libertadores champions, San Lorenzo. A league title, the Copa Sudamericana and then the Recopa left River and Gallardo only needing the Libertadores to complete a rather tasty grandslam.
That being said, Los Millonarios start to the Libertadores could not have been worse with opening day defeat to San José; while Boca and Racing had no such worries with Gustavo Bou kickstarting La Academia’s campaign with back-to-back hat-tricks against Deportivo Táchira and Guaraní.
Huracán were also back in the continent’s biggest competition after a 41-year absence thanks to a playoff win over Alianza Lima but El Globo found it hard work balancing this with a return to the new gangantuan 30-team Primera. The horrific frankenstein’s monster of a league left behind by the deceased Julio Grondona got underway and Huracán were just one of ten new additions.
The swollen Primera was now in full-swing but fifteen matches every weekend was not anymore stomachable. However, to provide some sense of familiarity, Boca keeper Agustín Orión gave a reminder as to why he is such a loathesome individual (among non-Boca supporters). Having just returned from suspension after a little head-butt against Temperley in the second weekend, the unscrupulous stopper was shown a second red card of the season for a horrific leg-breaking challenge on Carlos Bueno of San Martín.
Clásicos were coming thick and fast (several that the AFA simply made up for fixture convenience) but in a genuine grudge match Estudiantes extended their recent superiority over Gimnasia in the clásico Platense.
Argentina’s under-17s were hoping to emulate their under-20 counterparts in the South American championship in Paraguay but for all of young Tomás Conechny’s individual brilliance, they could only manage a runners-up spot in Paraguay.
Waiting since the 1973 Torneo Metropolitana for their previous trophy, few could deny Huracán a bit of success and thankfully after ending that barren spell with the 2014 Copa Argentina, El Globo didn’t have to wait long for their next piece of silverware. Victory against River Plate in San Juan meant Néstor Apuzzo’s side lifted the Supercopa and served as a welcome pick-me-up following Copa Libertadores elimination.
River celebrated a miraculous qualification from their Libertadores group stage with a first victory of the tournament in the final round. Gallardo’s side snatched the required 3-0 win against San José in the Monumental and were helped out by Mexican side Tigres, who played their part in defeating Juan Aurich 5-4 in Peru. These results swung it in their favour and Los Millo qualified for the knockout stages as the lowest ranked side.
Holders, San Lorenzo needed a similarly incredible final day to qualify the year before but their luck ran out in 2015 and Los Cuervos defence ended at the group stage with a limp 1-0 defeat to Danubio.
Back in the Primera, and Racing’s Uruguayan forward Carlos ‘Discoteca’ Núñez made the headlines after scoring in La Academia’s 2-0 win over Huracán dsepite rupturing his knee ligaments minutes earlier. The goal proved to be Discoteca’s last action for about six months.
The superclásico dominated the news in May as River Plate and Boca Juniors were pitted against each three times in the space of a little over a week. The Copa Libertadores seeding system meant Boca, as number one seeds, faced lowest seeds River over two legs and as luck would have it the first league encounter fell at the same time. The Primera clash came first and for the first time in the 102-year history of the fixture, the two sides sat level at the top of the table and still unbeaten – Boca drew first blood in the trilogy with a 2-0 win in La Bombonera but River didn’t have to wait long for revenge. A late Carlos Sánchez penalty gave River a slender first leg advantage in the Libertadores last 16 tie and the bitter rivals headed back to Boca, where the darkest element of Argentine football overshadowed proceedings. The now infamous ‘pepper-spray’ attack on the River players at half-time was a new low and rightly saw Boca thrown out of the tournament in disgrace.
There was far worse news to come in Argentine football though after the deaths of Emanuel Ortega and Cristian Gómez. 21-year-old Ortega was on-loan at San Martín de Burzaco and died after colliding with a concrete wall close to the touchline and Atlético Paraná defender, Gómez suffered a heart attack during his sides Nacional B match.
The biggest news in the Primera away from the superclásico was Racing’s victory over Independiente in the first clásico de Avellenada of the season – a result which prompted El Rojo to say farewell to manager Jorge Almirón.
Rather than crowning a short tournament champion at the midpoint of the year, the Argentine Primera División took a much needed break and the country geared up for the 2015 Copa América in Chile. Following the valiant but heart-breaking defeat to Germany at the World Cup in 2014, the Copa América was supposed to be the moment that Lionel Messi ended his wait for international honours and further cemented his claim as the best footballer of all time. Martino’s side had failed to really click for most the tournament but the devastating 6-1 thrashing of Paraguay in the semi-final brought with it renewed optimism. Jorge Sampaoli’s high-tempo Chile put a stop to that and after stifling Messi and co for 120 minutes, the final was decided on penalties. Gonzalo Higuaín suffered the indignity of blazing his effort almost out of the stadium and quickly became the poster boy for La Albiceleste’s recent failures.
One of Gerardo Martino’s biggest decisions with his squad was the recall of Carlos Tevez and although the 31-year-old didn’t make much of an impact for Argentina, the jugador del pueblo was at the centre of the biggest transfer story in Argentine football for many a year. El Apache had always spoken of his desire to return to his beloved Boca Juniors but given that he was still under contract with Serie A champions Juventus, it had looked impossible until later in his career. Sensationally, however, Boca managed to conclude the biggest transfer in living memory to bring Tevez back to La Bombonera and immediately install themselves as Torneo 2015 favourites.
Juve had already brought in a possible replacement for Tevez in fellow Argentine Paulo Dybala but Boca were not the only side bringing back former club legends. River Plate had already welcomed Pablo Aimar back a month earlier and in June, announced the returns of Javier Saviola and Lucho González. At the wrong side of 30 and at no where near their peaks, these were the type of deals the Primera was more accustomed to but nevertheless gave River’s legion of supporters further reason to cheer.
Oh, and let’s not forget – surely Argentina’s agony at the Copa América could be offset by some good news about the next crop of youngsters coming through. The under-20s travelled to New Zealand for the World Cup and went out at the group stage…ok move along.
Pablo Aimar’s River return proved to be short-lived after barely a month passed before El Payaso called time on his playing career. Persistant injuries prevented the 36-year-old from breaking back into Marcelo Gallardo’s plans and after being left out of River’s Copa Libertadores squad, the former Argentina international decided it was time to hang up the boots.
Manchester United provided the biggest transfer stories for Argentine football after they snapped up Sergio Romero on a free transfer and finally cut their losses on Ángel Di María. El Fideo had endured a difficult debut season in England and after failing to report back for pre-season training after the Copa América, it was clear that his stint at Old Trafford was over. Paris St Germain finally got their man, one year after United had beaten them to his signature.
The Primera season got back underway but Lanús were rocked by the death of defender Diego Barisone. The 26-year-old was killed in a car crash driving back to Buenos Aires from his native Santa Fe.
August without question belonged to River Plate. After limping through the group stages earlier in the year and then progressing past Boca by default there was a feeling that the footballing gods were looking down on Marcelo Gallardo and his side. Victories over Cruzeiro and Guaraní in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively pushed River into a reunion with Tigres, whose victory on the final evening of play in Group Six had ensured River’s progression. Gallardo had rejigged his side from earlier in the tournament and with the impressive Matías Kranevitter playing alongside Leonardo Ponzio as a double five in front of a solid back four, River were tough to beat. A goalless draw in México brought Tigres back to the Monumental and a similarly scrappy affair was brought to life by one of the matches few moments of genuine quality – Vangioni’s left wing cross was met by the diving header of Lucas Alario and the goal led the way for River to claim a famous 3-0 victory. River’s redemption from the disgrace that was the club’s first ever relegation in 2011 was complete.
It didn’t end quite there either. As winners of the 2014 Copa Sudamericana, River were obliged to travel to Japan to face Gamba Osaka in the Copa Segura Bank and as was becoming quite a habit, Los Millonarios came back with the trophy.
River’s success brought with it admirers and Matías Kranevitter was quickly snapped up by Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid while Everton submitted an offer that couldn’t be refused for central defender Ramiro Funes Mori. Kranevitter was permitted to remain at the Monumental for the remainder of the season and the Club World Cup at the end of the year but Funes Mori headed straight for Merseyside, leaving a hole in Gallardo’s back line.
September proved to be a decisive month in the title race after Boca stamped their authority on the league with victory over River in the Monumental. The 24th round of fixtures was rather entertainingly reserved only for clásicos and aside from those that the AFA simply had to force together, there were some hugely significant results. Boca claiming three points thanks to Nicolás Lodeiro’s goal against River on the same weekend that Rosario Central drew with Newell’s, San Lorenzo lost to Huracán and Racing were thumped by Independiente well and truly opened up the title race.
Boca had the momentum and in Carlos Tevez had a figure with the purpose and talent to drag them across the finish line. In the following fixture, Boca also received a great deal of good fortune and although Tevez’s individual brilliance could be attributed to the win over Argentinos Juniors, the fact that he avoided punishment for a horrendous leg-breaking tackle on Ezequiel Ham and Lodeiro’s reported incident of racial abuse went unnoticed meant Boca’s run-in was hitch free.
One player who had caught the eye all season from Boca’s title rivals, Rosario Central was Franco Cervi and Benfica moved swiftly to secure a deal for the tricky youngster and bring him to the Estádio da Luz in June 2016.
The penultimate weekend of the year-long Primera and Boca Juniors were crowned champions avoiding what would have been a tantalising final day winner-takes-all battle against Rosario Central. Central’s defeat to Banfield coupled with Boca’s 1-0 win over Tigre in La Bombonera ensured that Tevez’s return to Boca had the Hollywood style ending it craved. The 31-year-old is a natural winner and after winning titles in Brazil, England and Italy, Tevez proved to be the catalyst in pulling Boca to glory. Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s side were not always pretty but they were able to pluck victories out of these often stagnant performances when their challengers faltered.
Elsewhere, Gerardo Martino and his selección reconvened for their first competitive football since the Copa América. La Albiceleste’s first few steps towards the World Cup in Russia ended up being more of a trip and a stumble after an embarrassing defeat at home to Ecuador and a goalless draw away to Paraguay. With Lionel Messi missing through injury, Martino looked rather devoid of ideas and found himself under immense pressure ahead of November’s qualifiers.
And there was further bad news at youth level, after the Argentina under-17s were dumped out of the World Cup without a point to their name.
Just days after lifting the Primera trophy, Boca were in action again and this time the Copa Argentina was on the line. Rosario Central were the opponents and once again lady luck (or perhaps it was just referee Diego Ceballos) shone on Boca to grant them a hugely controversial league and cup double. Marco Ruben should have headed the provincial underdogs in front but was flagged offside and to compound this Ceballos awarded Boca a penalty for a foul on Gino Peruzzi that was committed yards outside the box. This proved decisive and as if to rub salt into the wound, Andrés Chávez added a late second from an offside position to send the all those connected to Central into a state of apoplexy.
The Primera season was wrapped up and Crucero del Norte proved everyone right, in that they should never been in the top flight while Nueva Chicago left their revival too late and despite a remarkable end to the season paid for not winning until round 20. Both sides slipped back into the Nacional B and the identity of one of their replacements was already known. Atlético Tucumán lifted the title and ensured a spot in the 2016 Primera; the playoffs would dictate who would join them.
And Argentina bounced back from their woeful start to World Cup qualification with a draw against Brazil and crucially a first win of the campaign away to Colombia. The results and the performances provided Gerardo Martino with some respite ahead of a hugely important 2016.
River Plate have arrived in Japan for the Club World Cup but there remains no further football in Argentina for 2015. Huracán’s dreams of lifting their first ever international trophy ended in despair after Independiente Santa Fe lifted the Copa Sudamericana on penalties. Two dreadful, goalless legs of football ended with El Globo missing all but one of their four spotkicks and the Colombian side celebrated their maiden tournament victory.
Domestically, the Primera was wrapped up with a fiery Clásico de Avellaneda – a place in the Copa Libertadores was on the line and Racing edged out Independiente to join Boca, River, San Lorenzo, Central and Huracán as Argentina’s representatives. The Copa Sudamericana had their playoffs too and Belgrano, Estudiantes, Banfield and Lanús prevailed.
And the promotion picture from the Nacional B was wrapped up after Patronato defeated Santamarina on penalties to join Atlético Tucumán in the top flight.
To see who was chosen as our player of the season click here
And finally the highly anticipated goal of the season video will be up very soon.