Torneo Final 2014: End of Season awards

Article featured on Outside of the Boot

river campeon 2014

As the curtain falls on what looks to be the final edition of the Torneo Final (should league redevelopment plans go ahead), it’s that time again to reflect on the last six months in Argentinian domestic football.

Following the trend of recent short tournaments, the current edition has epitomised the open, unpredictable nature that characterises top flight Argentinian football, with virtually the entire top half in title contention for most of the season.  Though this rapidly rotating cast of pretenders does at least make things competitive, it was perhaps best surmised by Canchallena’s Alberto Cantore who likened it to “a mediocre thriller, in which the parity masks the scant quality”.

Short-termism and a faltering economy against a backdrop of ongoing fan violence suggest that this is unlikely to change anytime soon but – rant over – nevertheless there was still plenty to enjoy from the recently finished Torneo Final.

We start with the champions River Plate who won theirfirst Primera title in 6 years, topping the table with 37 points.  This was a cathartic victory for Los Millonarios, a first step towards atoning for their historic relegation three years ago, confirmed in style on the final day with a 5-0 thumping of Quilmes.  A five-point gap ahead of second doesn’t do justice to what was a tight league to the end, with both Estudiantes and Gimnasia still in contention going into the last round, but a superb second half of the season ensured Ramon Diaz restored River back to their former glory.

The foundations of their success were based on solid home form (8 wins, 1 loss and only 4 goals conceded at the Monumental) and a strong finish as River ended the season with a seven game unbeaten streak and 8 wins from their last 11.  What’s more, they won all the clasicos against the Cinco Grandes, including a victory against Boca in the Bombonera – their first Superclasico win since their return to the Primera.  All in all, it’s hard to argue that River weren’t deserved champions.

There were a number of standout performers. Gabriel Mercado earned a surprise national team call up after consistently impressive displays at right back while Fernando Cavenaghi proved what a ludicrous decision it was not to retain his services following their promotion with 8 goals and three assists.  River’s Colombian trio also made key contributions; Eder Alvarez Balanta continued to underline what a bright future he has ahead of him, Carlos Carbonero had his best season to date with six goals and four assists and Teo Gutierrez finally hit some form, scoring decisive goals against San Lorenzo and Velez.  Elsewhere youngsters Manuel Lanzini and Matias Kranevitter showed they are developing nicely, Cristian ‘Lobo’ Ledesma enjoyed an Indian summer at the base of the midfield and Leandro Chichizola came in late on and made two crucial penalty saves.

River Plate's Cavenaghi holds up the trophy as he celebrate after the team clinched the Argentine first division championship in Buenos Aires

It was also a good season for both La Plata clubs as both Gimnasia and Estudiantes mounted decent title challenges, only to just fall short of the top prize.  Gimnasia will perhaps look back most ruefully as their best chance to win a first Primera title in the professional era slipped through their hands.  With parallels to Liverpool’s Premier League campaign, Los Triperos embarked on a run of six consecutive victories to find themselves top of the table with three games to go.  However, their ‘Gerrard moment’ came when, in the penultimate game versus Quilmes, their excellent keeper Fernando Monetti fumbled a routine cross into his own net and they only managed to pick up one more point to their tally, eventually finishing in fifth.  Nevertheless, it was a great season for the newly promoted side, with impressive displays from the aforementioned Monetti, captain Lucas Licht and the midfield axis of Omar Pousso and Franco Mussis, while the signing of Uruguayan Alvaro Fernandez also gave an extra creative dimension.

Cross city rival Estudiantes almost gave the perfect send off for club icon Juan Sebastian Veron, who retires for the second time.  Boasting the sternest defence in the league, Mauricio Pellegrino’s side only conceded 11 goals but were thwarted by a lack of goals, only managing an average of just over one a game.  The spectacular goalkeeping prospect Geronimo Rulli kept eleven clean sheets, while Gaston Gil Romero formed a lovely centre midfield combo with Veron and there was a coming of age season for striker Guido Carrillo who hit the back of the net 9 times, accounting for almost 50% of el Pincha’s goals.

Elsewhere, Boca Juniors almost out of nowhere snuck up and finished second to suggest that, like River, things are finally beginning to click for Bianchi’s boys.  Five back-to-back wins and eight without loss will give Los Xeneizes positives to build on ahead of next season, though much of the focus will be on whether Juan Roman Riquelme stays or goes.  Notable mentions also go to Godoy Cruz and Olimpo for both impressively avoided relegation.

It was a torrid campaign for Argentinos Juniors who were relegated to the B.  Despite thereturn of club favourite Bichi Borghi – the man who led them to a title just 4 years ago – and the best efforts of Leonardo Pisculichi it wasn’t enough to maintain top flight status and they went out with a whimper.

All Boys were also relegated after another poor campaign.  The sale of star striker Mauro Matos to San Lorenzo was always going to be a massive blow and so it proved with Albo managing just three wins all season.  Joining them in the second division will be Colon who drop out of the top flight for the first time in 19 years.  After a dismal Inicial, the Sabaleros put faith in their youngsters and were top of the league for several weeks, needing a massive points haul to save themselves.  In a final day full of drama, late winners for Colon and Atletico Rafaela saw them end level on points in the promedios and the two had to face off in a relegation playoff on neutral ground.  Rafaela won 1-0 and sealed Colon’s fate.

It was also another disappointing season for Racing who could muster only 17 points, just one more than the Torneo Inicial, and will be looking over their shoulders at the promedios for the next couple of seasons as a result of a miserable 2013/2014.  A big job on the hands of incoming manager Diego Cocca.

Best Player:
Mauro Zarate
proved he was a cut above the rest with thirteen goals and five assists for a Velez team prioritising the Libertadores.  Far too good to remain in Argentina, he will be plying his trade back in Europe next season after signing for West Ham.

Golazo of the Season:
Due to a particularly high number of spectacular strikes, it is only fair to break the award down into the following categories..

For the best bicycle kick, Gimnasia’s Lucas Licht wins the ‘Chilena of the Torneo Final’ for his improvised effort versus All Boys.  Honourable mentions go to Valentin Viola for Racing against Colon and Mauro Zarate’s effort against Rosario.  Doug Ellis would be proud.

For the most powerful belter, Colon’s Gabriel Graciani wins ‘Bombazo of the Torneo Final’ for his ludicrous strike against Quilmes.  Second place goes to Ever Banega for his unstoppable finish against Tigre while Lucas Albertengo takes third place with his rocket against Tigre

Best long range strike sees Gaston Diaz beating teammate Maxi Meza to first place with his audacious effort against Godoy Cruz. Meza has to make do with second for his inch perfect finish against Argentinos and plaudits to Cristian Ledesma for his long ranger v Quilmes

For best freekick, it doesn’t get much better than Juan Roman Riquelme’s in the superclasico against River.

Finally, the best lob in the Primera goes to Victor Figueroa for his cheeky effort against Velez.  Luis ‘Pulga’ Rodriguez goes one better in the Primera B with his perfectly executed strikes for Atletico Tucuman against Independiente.

Worst Transfer:
In a story that pretty much sums up the bitter luck of Racing, the transfer of Colombian striker Wason Renteria turned out to be a disaster from start to finish.  It emerged that he had neglected to inform the club of a respiratory condition and whose medications could cause him to fail a doping test.  He then returned to Colombia without permission, only to return and receive approval to play.  However, before even kicking a ball, he injured his cruciate ligaments in training and was ruled out for the entire season.

Benitez Lanus

Best youngsters:
Aside from the likes of already much heralded starlets like Eder Alvarez Balanta, Angel Correa and Geronimo Rulli, there were a number of breakthrough youngsters who caught the eye.

The pick of an interesting crop of youngsters at Lanus, Oscar ‘Junior’ Benitez was always a threat cutting in from the flanks, while Marcos Astina and Jorge Valdez Chamorro also impressed. Colombian striker Jose Adolfo Valencia made a big impact at Olimpo with 7 goals that helped them towards safety and he looks set to follow in footsteps of father.

Estudiantes boast an exciting roster of talent and other than the aforementioned Rulli and full back Jonathan Silva, Gaston Gil Romero had a terrific season anchoring the midfield alongside Veron.  Across town, neighbours Gimnasia were indebted to midfield terrier Franco Mussis, who is off to FC Kobenhavn this summer, and Maxi Meza also caught the eye.

Newell’s 17-year-old striker Ezequiel Ponce had a very encouraging debut season with 4 goals while Velez’s Jorge Correa and Arsenal’s Ramiro Carrera showed flashes of brilliance. Gabriel Graciani began the season like a freight train for Colon with 5 goals in 5 games but tailed off somewhat and Rafaela’s Lucas Albertengo continued to show the same form that drew plaudits in the Torneo Inicial.  A mention to Rodrigo de Paul who despite being in a poor Racing side impressed enough to earn a 6.5mil move to Valencia and elsewhere Erik Godoy did well in the heart of the Tigre defence.

David Attenborough award (for services to wildlife):
It wouldn’t be a proper Argentinian season without at least one animal invasion and true to form there were a fair share of canine capers to add some levity to the proceedings.  During a 1-1 draw between River and Rosario play was stopped for several minutes as a dog broke onto the pitch, avoided capture and committed a terrible foul in the area (ahem..).  The Primera B also saw a couple of incidents, with Banfield manager Matias Almeyda blaming defeat on the interruption of a playful pup while a pooch joined the celebrations early as Brown de Adrogue secured their place in the B with a draw against Huracan.

Grudging recognition award:
Often the subject of derision and mockery, Ricardo Caruso Lombardi once again justified his reputation as the relegation firefighter by keeping Quilmes in the top flight.  Though he may be a contemptible character, doff of the cap to the smokeseller.

Facepalm of the season:
AFA’s decision to implement a new 30 team Primera division starting from February 2015.  The mind boggles.

Fond farewells:
Juan Sebastian Veron
will hang up his boots for the second time after almost guiding Estudiantes to what would have been a fitting swansong for a man who embodies the club.  Another notable veteran calling time on his playing career is Gabriel ‘Gringo’ Heinze as he made an emotional goodbye to the Newell’s faithful.  He will now become part of Marcelo Bielsa’s coaching staff at Marseille.

At the other end of the scale, young starlet Angel Correa will sorely be sorely missed as he continues his development abroad with La Liga winners Atletico Madrid.  The 19-year-old laid on the most assists during the Torneo Final (9 in total) and at €7 million is an absolute bargain for this diamond in the rough.


Article also featured on Outside of the Boot