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SPORTS | 11-04-2024 21:58

Copa de la Liga Profesional qualification goes down to the wire

Conceived in 2019 as a hybrid stopgap to plug a few holes in the fixture schedule, the Copa de la Liga Profesional has taken on its own life as a worthy tournament in its own right.

Of all the bad decisions the Argentine Football Association (AFA) has taken over the years, the invention of the Copa de la Liga Profesional must count as the one with the happiest final result. Conceived as a hybrid stopgap to plug a few holes in the fixture schedule, the Copa has in fact taken on its own life as a worthy tournament in its own right, throwing up several gripping editions already since coming into being back in 2019.

No matter what you may think of its format, moreover, nobody can say that it is not conducive to high drama. For the second time in six months the end of the Copa’s first phase has left us with a final weekend full of suspense and tension and with the potential for countless possible outcomes once the dust finally settles on Tuesday night.

Yes, that is right, Tuesday night. That most traditional of days for season deciders which will determine the identity of the four qualifiers from Group B – another of those AFA decisions discussed earlier.

Though in all fairness, this time there was not a great amount of choice in the matter. Boca Juniors and Estudiantes de la Plata must still complete the last hour of the game postponed when Javier Altamirano suffered an on-pitch seizure in La Plata – the Chilean has happily since been given the all-clear and was present in the stands for Estudiantes’ victory over Central Córdoba last weekend – and they will do so on Friday, clearing the way for that belated finale. 

Whether for the sake of consistency or the sheer hell of it, Group A’s own deciding round takes place on Monday evening, leaving the weekend curiously free of any meaningful football. As AFA chief Claudio ‘Chiqui’ Tapia is fond of remarking, enjoy it, don’t try and understand it.

Once the teams finally take the pitch, though, fireworks are to be expected. With the exception of Godoy Cruz, safely through as runaway leaders, and eliminated Belgrano, all of the clubs involved in Group B’s four games on Tuesday are fighting for their lives as they seek a play-off berth: three remaining spots for three clubs separated by razor-thin margins.

Coming off a run of three consecutive Copa victories prior to the rescheduled Estudiantes match, Boca will fancy their chances of squeezing through, a huge boost to coach Diego Martínez who looks to be finding his feet at the club following a slow start. Looking to thwart the Xeneize at the last hurdle are the likes of Estudiantes, Newell’s Old Boys and Racing Club, who under club legend Gustavo Costas are finishing an uneven season strongly and must beat Belgrano in Córdoba for a real chance to enter the top four.

Group A looks to be even more cut-throat. Just three points separate Argentinos Juniors in first from sixth-placed Vélez Sarsfield, and the teams drawn in these last fixtures ensure that none of those six sides is assured of their play-off spot until the very final whistle. Argentinos and joint-leaders Barracas Central at least know that a draw in their game would send both through, making that game of particular attraction for conspiracy fanatics the length and breadth of Argentina should it remain goalless beyond half-time.

River too would likely be safe with a draw against Instituto thanks to their Miguel Borja-inspired inflated goal difference, but it is surprising even to see the Millo sweating this final weekend having lost just one game in the entire Copa. Their Grande rivals Independiente, meanwhile, must beat fourth-placed Talleres to keep their hopes alive, or else face another narrow elimination. For every team involved in the chase it looks set to go down to the wire, ensuring that while the weekend may be strangely bereft of football action the following week is guaranteed to start with a bang.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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