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SPORTS | 02-05-2024 19:42

Copa de la Liga deals up surprise Vélez-Estudiantes final

Vélez Sarsfield and Estudiantes will be gunning for the title in Sunday’s final, a match-up that cannot fail to evoke memories of the sides’ most recent glory days over a decade ago

One of Argentine football’s most endearing qualities is its potential for surprise, and that everything can change in little more than a blink of an eye. This year’s Copa de la Liga Profesional has only emphasised that volatility, with thrilling consequences.

Of the eight qualifiers who reached this year’s play-off phase, for example, only two had also reached the same stage five months ago in 2023. Those two sides – River Plate and Godoy Cruz – led their respective groups and played some of the best football early on and were promptly sent packing in the last eight, before in-form Boca Juniors received their own rude awakening, just when it appeared victory was on hand.

The upshot of all that is that Vélez Sarsfield and Estudiantes will be gunning for the title in Sunday’s final, a match-up that cannot fail to evoke memories of the sides’ most recent glory days over a decade ago – a time when Fútbol Para Todos ruled the (free-to) airwaves, away fans still poured through the turnstiles, and nobody had the faintest idea who Javier Milei was.

Taking advantage of historic low ebbs for both Boca and River, the pair were perennial contenders at the top of the table. Between 2005 and 2013, Vélez lifted five Primera División titles, while Estudiantes prevailed on two occasions and also took the 2009 Copa Libertadores for good measure. The intervening years have not been so kind: Vélez’s last title was the 2013 Supercopa, though the Pincha did break their own drought stretching back 13 years when they defeated Defensa y Justicia to clinch the Copa Argentina last year.

In Vélez’s case, moreover, only the most optimistic of fans could have foreseen a title challenge this year after a series of dreadful campaigns, caused in no small measure by financial difficulties which saw a succession of teams gutted and sold off. Even fewer would have predicted success when the Fortín kicked off the Copa with a draw and two defeats, the last of which was a 5-0 humiliation at the hands of River.

Instead that fiasco was the prompt for Gustavo Quinteros to whip his team into shape, and they responded by losing just one of the next 11 to squeeze into the play-offs. They may not be the most scintillating team to watch at times – though the 14 goals scored in as many games during the group phase points more to a chronic inability to finish chances than problems in creating them – but what Vélez do not lack is pluck, prevailing against both Godoy Cruz and Argentinos Juniors, despite having a man sent off in both those encounters.

Vélez will be back as the underdog on Sunday as most eyes will be on the Pincha, vanquishers of Boca in the semis thanks to Matías Mansilla’s shootout heroics and a moment of madness from Xeneize enforcer Cristian Lema. The La Plata team has quietly been amongst Argentina’s strongest for the past 12 months and must surely be considered favourites to follow up that Copa Argentina triumph with another trophy. Then again, there have been so many twists and shocks on the road to the final that one more would not come as any surprise at all.

 

Estudiantes de La Plata vs. Vélez Sarsfield
Sunday, May 5, 5.30pm
Estadio Madre de Ciudades
de Santiago del Estero

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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