Team of the Inicial 2012
With the Torneo Inicial done and dusted, it’s that time once again to cast an eye over the stand out performers of the last 5months. Newell’s set an impressive early pace but seemed to run out of steam as the season wore on, while Velez were a model of consistency and were deservedly crowned champions. An impressive late surge from Lanus pushed Velez to the wire and Belgrano had a spectacular season, remaining in the title hunt throughout.
Racing notched a best points total as they put faith in youth, while Boca also had some emerging talents but lacked sparkle without Riquelme. River finished with a respectable points tally in their first season back and San Lorenzo belatedly began to click under new boss Pizzi as they steadily edge away from the relegation zone. Independiente, though, remain in all sorts of trouble are will need to up their game significantly if they are to avoid the drop. Union failed to win a single game and last year’s runners up Tigre managed just one victory despite simultaneously getting to the Copa Sudamericana final.
But who were the players who made a lasting mark? Playing roughly in a 4-3-3 formation, here are my standout players of the Torneo Inicial 2012:
GK: SEBASTIAN SAJA (Racing)
Consistently one of the best keepers in the league, the Racing custodian was once again in stellar form this season. La Academia had one of the sternest defences and this was in no small part to inspirational captain Saja, who conceded just 8 goals in the 16 games he played, three of which coming in one game against Boca. A whole host of fantastic saves – such as a late full stretch save to ensure a win against River – ensured that Racing achieved their highest points tally in a decade. A real leader on and off the field, Chino even stepped up to score a penalty against San Lorenzo.
RB: MAXIMILIANO CAIRE (Colon)
Although Colon’s season petered out after a promising start, Caire won many plaudits for his energetic performances at full back. Quick, lithe and great stamina characterized his play as he burst forward to join the attack on numerous occasions. One goal versus Estudiantes and three assists saw him rewarded with a call up to the domestic based national side to play Brazil, although he didn’t feature. Far from the finished product but Caire is one to keep an eye on.
DL: EMILIANO PAPA (Velez)
Another of the consistently impressive players in the league, the experienced full back was a vital part of a Velez back line that conceded just 12 goals. Defensively solid but always willing to join the attack, Papa helped supply a steady stream of crosses and, even though he only registered one assist, his general contribution to Velez’s play was excellent as he gave the side more width and helped create space for more gaps to emerge.
DC: SANTIAGO VERGINI (Newell’s)
Although Gabriel Heinze’s return to Newell’s gained more attention, it was his defensive partner Vergini who impressed me more during the Inicial. Vergini was at the heart of the Newell’s backline that boasted the second best defensive record in the league, conceding only 11 times. In what was very much an all-round team performance for a Newell’s side that were defeated only once, Vergini was consistently solid in the 18 games he played for la Lepra.
DC: OSWALDO VIZCARRONDO (Lanus)
The big, ponytailed Venezuelan centre back made a huge impart in his first season for Lanus. Tall, imposing and aerially dominant, Vizcarrondo was the foundation of the best defence in the league – breached just 10 times – as Barros Schelotto’s men made a late surge for the title with a surprising seven back-to-back victories, eventually finishing fourth.
MC: HERNÁN VILLALBA (Newell’s)
The young, deep-lying midfielder was central to the possession-based game eschewed by Gerardo Martino at Newell’s. Not a flashy player but Villalba was a key cog as Newell’s bossed the possession of virtually every game with intelligent use of the ball, linking defence and midfield, as well as proving an invaluable defensive shield in front of the back four. His discipline allowed the likes of Perez, Maxi, Bernardi and others to flood forward as Newell’s looked early favourites for the title.
MC: FRANCISCO CERRO (Velez)
If there is anyone who typifies the impressive work done at Velez then during the last season it was this man. After el Fortin lost a number of first team players pre-season, no-one expected them to challenge for the title but Cerro – a 550k purchase from Quilmes following a season on loan – stepped up seamlessly to boss the number 5 role at the base of the midfield. He played an important role for a solid Velez side that wasn’t quite as attacking as previous teams, and he displayed fantastic positioning and anticipation to break up opposition moves and then initiate new attacks with slick, efficient passing.
MC: LEONARDO PONZIO (River)
The River midfielder had a fantastic season and was the stand out player for the returning Millonarios, especially early on in the season when Ponzio really had to drive his team forward and lead by example. Occupying a more withdrawn playmaker role, Ponzio was the conduit of everything good about River’s play, spraying the ball around and delivering inch perfect set pieces. Seven assists and three goals – all from long range – demonstrate Ponzio’s invaluable contribution to River during the Inicial. Alongside Cerro & Villalba in this XI, Ponzio has the freedom to dictate the flow of the game.
AM/FW L: RICARDO CENTURION (Racing)
A fantastic breakthrough season for the teenage winger, who makes up part of a front three here. Admittedly, he could have been more consistent but there were enough bursts of talent to justify his place in the starting 11. When looking at the stats, 3 goals and 7 assists is a very impressive return in a Racing side that were one of the highest scorers in the league as Zubeldia’s faith in youth rewarded. Pacey and capable as of turning a defender inside out, there are shades of Angel di Maria about him and Racing have already rejected a sizeable bid from Porto. Seems destined for Europe but should at least get a glimpse of him in South American under 20s in January.
SC: FACUNDO FERREYRA (Velez)
One of the stars of the Inicial, Facundo ‘Chucky’ Ferreyra ended up as joint top scorer with 13 goals and his fine form in front of goal helped propel Velez to the title. Having joined from relegated Banfield, the 21-year-old took a little time to adapt but then hit a rich vein of form as he fostered a growing understanding with strike partner Lucas Pratto. Primarily a penalty box operator with great movement and accuracy, Ferreyra also can call on good pace and impressive heading ability despite not being the tallest. His predatory instinct seems him get the more central position of the forwards.
FW R: IGNACIO SCOCCO (Newell’s)
Another of the revelations of the tournament, Scocco arriving something of an unknown quantity. After spells in Mexico, Greece and UAE before returning to Newells at the start of the season, Nacho had an absolute belter, hitting the back of the net 13 times to share the golden boot with Ferreyra. Without his goals, Newell’s would have struggled but at one stage it looked like he was going to fire them to the title. It wasn’t just the amount of goals he scored but the spectacular nature of most of them. Long range strikes, thunderous volleys, bicycle kicks; Scocco had the lot in his armoury. Though he acted as the lone frontman for Newell’s, his ability to work the channels and cut in with devastating effect sees him occupy a slightly wider forward/second striker role in this set up.
Agustin Marchesin (Lanus): a fine season for the keeper that made up the best defence in the league
Emanuel Mas (San Martin): Despite playing for a struggling side, the young left back made a name for himself with some eye catching displays.
Gino Peruzzi (Velez): In my opinion the best young right back in the league but misses out on a place in the starting XI due to not having a settled position. Velez record appearance holder Cubero mainly at right back so Peruzzi used further forward. Still impressive and displayed his versatility.
Chiqui Perez (Belgrano): Part of a solid defence that helped Belgrano to a historic third place finish. Cool under pressure with with vital goals from penalty spot against Estudiantes and Godoy Cruz.
Juan Sanchez Mino (Boca): Got off to a blistering start to the season but an injury in the Superclasico kept him out of the rest of the season and thus he has settle for a place on the bench.
Lucas Mugni (Colon): Another young prospect who really impressed. Very intelligent playmaker but often used out of position on the left. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to shine in his preferred position.
Mario Regueiro (Lanus): Narrowly pipped by Centurion to left forward position. 3 goals and 5 assists a good return for the experienced Uruguayan
Luciano Vietto (Racing): Wonderful first season for the recently turned 19-year-old. A hat-trick on his debut start and 5 goals overall saw him consolidate the main striker role over considerably more experienced players. Looks a star in the making but not forcing his way past Chucky or Nacho.