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Football | Argentina

Ricardo Gareca © Action Images

Velez profit from problems at Big Five

While coach Ricardo Gareca's Velez Sarsfield won the Argentine 'Inicial' championship, their third league title in four years, the country's traditional powerhouses struggled.

Only Boca Juniors of the Big Five, which also includes River Plate, Independiente, Racing Club and San Lorenzo, have won a league crown in the last 4-1/2 seasons, while the likes of Banfield and Arsenal clinched their first.

River, back in the top flight this year after a traumatic first relegation, and arch-rivals Boca changed coaches at the end of 2012 in a perceptible shift towards attack.

Former Argentina playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme only played in the first half of the year yet his influence at Boca was just as strong off the pitch in the second.

Boca fans chanted his name and jeered Julio Cesar Falcioni at the end of their final match of the championship last weekend, a 2-1 win over Godoy Cruz, forcing the club not to renew the unpopular coach's contract.

Matias Almeyda was rewarded for steering River back to the first division by keeping his job for the Inicial but he too suffered from impatience amon the fans with his failure to build a convincing team and seven-title Ramon Diaz was brought back.

Racing coach Luis Zubeldia put his faith in a quartet of young forwards and enjoyed a winning run-in to the championship in which they finished eight points behind Velez.


Life was much harder for their Avellaneda 'barrio' enemies Independiente, fighting against what would be a first relegation and the ire of their barrabrava hooligan fans who have been denied customary favours by club president Javier Cantero.

The players were threatened by barrabravas after a recent training session when veteran Paraguayan defender Claudio Morel Rodriguez stood up to them and very nearly got involved in a fight.

After Sunday's 2-2 draw at home to Colon, the players were ushered out of a back door to avoid angry fans inside the club.

"It's a complicated situation. I think that to leave through this door is wrong... We need a good pre-season, we know it's difficult," Morel told reporters.

"We wanted to finish (the Inicial) outside the relegation (zone)... The fans want to see the team winning. We don't manage it and they go away angry. We gave everything against Colon but didn't get the win."

Coach Americo Gallego, the last man to lead Independiente to a league title in 2002 and who returned in September, said: "We are very nervous and the fans pressure us more."

San Lorenzo have shaken off their cautious approach under former Spain striker Juan Antonio Pizzi, who took over in October, and escaped from the bottom three in the relegation standings, a table of teams' average points over three seasons.

Record seven times South American champions Independiente are still stuck in that zone.


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