A bit of overseas news, but fairly monumental in football terms.
Imagine United getting relegated. Then imagine United getting relegated in a system totally catered to maintaining the status quo. That is an idea that Argentinian football fans have just seen realised as River Plate, giants in the South American game with 33 league titles to their name, have dropped down to the second division. This is despite relegation being based on an average of points over three seasons and then the two teams in the last two relegation spots playing off against two teams from the lower division. It is an achivement in itself for a big club to do so poorly.
After losing 2-0 in the away leg to Belgrano, River Plate needed a two goal victory (a draw on aggregate would mean the team from the higher division stays there) to stay up which meant at the end of a thrilling 88 minutes, before the game was called off, the score of 1-1 was not enough and the Argentinian giants were relgated. It was a fantastic game of football with River pushing for the win from the first minute, putting alot of pressure on the Belgrano defense, who shut out and blocked attack after attack stoicly, but leaving plenty of space at the back to exploit. After 7 minutes Mariano Pavone controlled, turned and drove a low shot into the net from the edge of the box and it was game on. A furiously fast paced and ill tempered 53 minutes followed, full of the usual South American gamesmanship, all the territorial play coming from the home side without forcing the Belgrano keeper into a good save before the sucker punch on the hour mark, a ball played over the top and the attempted clearance from the River Plate defender was driven straight into his own centre half, the rebound falling gratefully for Guillermo Farre to neatly slot home. From then on River were desperate in their play and secure a golden chance to get back in the match when a push in the box led to a penalty which Pavone pathetically drove right of centre down the goalie’s throat. The rest, as they say, is history.
With such a talented squad it is amazing they are in this predicament, Pavone returning from Betis after making a seven million euro move there four years ago, Diego Buonanotte may be a familiar name after being courted by many European clubs before signing for stinking rich Malaga in January (he was asked by his coach to stay for another 6 months to help with the battle against relegation to which Buonanotte agreed, but barely made the bench after the manager declared that he moans too much after being substituted) and Eric Lamela who is a very highly rated 19 year old. River Plate are in 12 million pounds of debt and there are accusations of corruption and being involved with criminal gangs. Even still, for a club of this size it is still a massive shock in the world of football.
To the supporters of River Plate (and other South American clubs) football means the world to them and with a history of violence (fans broke into the hotel before the game infact and tried to reach the players and staff but were stopped by security before they could) it isn’t a suprise to see River supporters rioting. The ref stopped the game 88 minutes in and declared the result 1-1 after fans started breaking apart seats to throw them onto the pitch and climbing over the barbed wired fences. The authorities had prepared for this with two thousand police officers taking part in the operation, spraying supporters with water and using gas on some sections of the crowd. Eventually both teams left the field escorted by security. It’s sad to see that the trouble has continued after the game with reports of the death of a police officer, the setting alite of cars and fans smashing up the club museum. Moreover, the system which means that it is very hard to get relegated also means it is just as difficult to stay up beyond a season. With the debts, total incompetancy of the directors and no doubt a massive exhodus of players as teams from Europe and South America pick up the gems of this underperforming team it may be a few years before River Plate is established once again in Argentinian football.