Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Testing Times

Whilst the group stages of the Copa Libertadores aren't quite the cash cow that the Champions League is competition to reach them will still be fierce. The guaranteed income that they provide will keep the bailiff's away and the tax man happy for a few months. With the financial tightrope that the majority of Argentina's clubs are balanced on both Newell's and Colón will feel the pressure to progress.

Newell's face the longest trans-Andean trek as they've been drawn against Ecuadorean side Emelec of Guayaquil a mere 4000km away. The PSV Eindhoven of Latin America - whose origins are also borne of a local electrics factory will be testing opponents for The Lepers. Emelec were the country's first representatives in the Copa Libertadores of 1962 a decade in which clubs from both banks of the Rio de la Plata dominated. Football in Ecuador has shrugged off the tag of perpetual minnows in recent years with Liga de Quito winning the 2008 Copa Libertadores and Recopa Sudamericana and also last years Copa Sudamericana. A barometer of the country's progress can be seen from the amount of talent now playing in Europe. With Guayaquil being at sea level at least Newell's wont have to wrestle with the affects of altitude they will however be subjected to a hot and clammy tropical climate.

In contrast to Newell's, Colón of Santa Fe are faced with a short hop to Santiago where they will play Universidad Católica, who lost out to city rivals Colo Colo in the final of 2009's Apertura. This will be Colón's first Libertadores appearance since 1998 and they have qualified by virtue of the amount of points they amassed last year, a trip to Chile's third most successful club is scant reward for their toils. Lining up against Católica will be 37 year old striker Esteban Fuertes Colón's all time record goalscorer and the archetypal footballing nomad. Never has David Coleman's 'goals pay the rent, and Keegan does his share' quote seemed more apt. Considering the amount of teams he's played it's of no great surprise that he also had a spell with La UC which ended under somewhat of cloud when he suffered a knee injury.

The triumph of Estudiantes last season was a majestic achievement. This victory has masked the collective failings of Argentina's other representatives and also highlighted the general decline in standards throughout the league, only the eventual champions reached the quarter finals as opposed to four teams from Brazil. Both San Lorenzo and Lanús finished bottom of their respective groups and as I've mentioned before none of the Big Five have made it this year, they'll have the various pre-season clásicos to fret over.

This year's Copa Libertadores schedule in full:

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A Long, Hot Summer

Slow news week. A minor inconvenience for Argentina's premier sports daily Olé who still have column inches to fill. We've discovered that Napoli and Argentine midfielder Jesús Dátolo has posed for Italian gay magazine Romeo Mag, his club we're informed aren't happy as one of the pictures features the hallowed Napoli shirt. Other fillers include a section encouraging fans to send in summer holiday snaps featuring their sporting idols, San Lorenzo's Diego Simeone leaves very little to the imagination in a minute pair of Speedos, enough to put many a reader off their medialunas.

Back to the football - new signings are thin on the ground at the time of writing. One absentee, Santiago Silva (once) of Banfield has failed to join the champions for pre-season training. The Apertura's leading goalscorer seems to be heading back to Velez who own half his contract. Banfield's president Carlos Portell is unwilling to pay $2.5m for complete ownership of the striker's contract - Estudiantes or River beckon. Teams are limited to four new recruits each during the summer break and most are a long way from nearing this limit. Financial constraints once again have helped to stifle the market, we're all aware this is a global economic slump and as such buyers from Europe are few and far between. Without revenue from the old continent the perilous state of Argentina's top clubs becomes all the more acute. Figures recently released show that only five of Primera A's 20 clubs are in the black, it'll be interesting to see if the Government's handout in exchange for TV Rights makes any difference in the months to come. No surprises that both Boca and River occupy first and third places respectively in the debtors list. Arrivals may be borne of necissity, Diego Buonanotte will be absent from River for months following his car crash - his physical injuries will heal but the mental scars will last for a long time and he may never be the same player again. Of a less serious nature is the the knee injury suffered by Boca Juniors' midfielder Sebastain Battaglia which will rule him out for the duration of the Clasura. One player who looks to be heading to Europe is 19 year old Eduardo Salvio of Lanús after being touted around he seems to favour Spain and if reports are to be believed Atletico Madrid will sign him. Ironically Lanús are one of those rare exceptions - a well run, solvent club whose existence doesn't depend on this transfer going through. Salvio's arrival at the Vicente Calderon could see Sergio Aguero move on.

The provinces this weekend will be graced by the big clubs as the various tradional Summer Tournaments get underway; a few clásicos of varying descriptions and a couple of superclásicos will take place this month before the proper games start at the end of January. Olé will then have someting to write about - and so will I! Finally Verón has put his heart and his family ahead of a lucrative move to Manchester City and will stay at Estudiantes. One spell in Manchester regardless of the team would seem to be enough for Seba .

Hot!!? Jesus Datolo's photoshoot: