They came, they saw, they went back down again; and, somehow, they conquered.
Trophies have been flying around the world of football in recent weeks as, in South America at least, the season winds down in time for the World Cup (two weeks and counting, as I'm sure you all have marked on your calendars). For the most part, the winners barely raised an eyebrow.
Boca Juniors just held on to take the Liga Profesional de Fútbol title following Racing Club's final-minute meltdown last week, and on Sunday will have a chance to add a third piece of silverware to their 2023 collection in the shape of the Trofeo de Campeones. Rivals Racing, though, will have something to prove in the final in San Luis after that agonising end to the league campaign and showed their mettle to reach the clash after coming from behind to beat Tigre 3-2 in a thrilling tie-break on Wednesday.
Down in the Primera Nacional, meanwhile, Belgrano have been sitting pretty for some time now having waltzed to first place and a much-coveted return to the promised land of the top flight. One of Instituto, Defensores de Belgrano, Estudiantes de Buenos Aires and Gimnasia de Mendoza will yet join them, once the second tier's interminable play-off system comes to a close later in November. And there were also title celebrations in Brazil: to the surprise of few, Flamengo reclaimed the Copa Libertadores over Athletico Paranaense in last Saturday's final.
But there was one big surprise. There is a new Copa Argentina holder, the first-ever Argentine champion to come from outside Buenos Aires and Santa Fe. Patronato capped a fairytale campaign, complete with victories over both River and Boca, to take down Talleres and be crowned champions – just days after suffering the anguish of going down to the Primera Nacional along with Aldosivi.
The victory, sealed by a bizarre tackle-shot from Thiago Banega which flew into the net for the game's only goal, was undoubtedly bittersweet for the Entre Ríos side, and once more showed up the flaws of the Liga's average points relegation system. Had the drop solely been determined by performances over 2022 it would have been Lanús joining Aldosivi in the Nacional, while Patronato looked down from the comfort of their mid-table finish. But their previous underwhelming campaigns condemned Facundo Sava's charges, who nevertheless ended the year with their heads held high and with a place in history.
“As well as the 40 points we won, Patronato were a brave team, that took risks, that pressed high up in every single stadium. We took risks,” Sava beamed after the Copa triumph. “We have had a great season and it is only because of the average points thing that we failed to stay up.”
Next year promises to be a roller-coaster for Patronato. They can certainly expect to be racking up the air miles. Trips to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo may be on the cards to take on Libertadores giants like Flamengo or Palmeiras; while they were also expecting to visit Abu Dhabi in order to dispute the Supercopa with Boca, only to see the AFA suddenly reverse that choice of venue days after celebrating Copa Argentina victory (and hit back with a tweet in Arabic criticising the U-turn). But the club will also be back on the Nacional grind, with away days at some of Argentina's furthest-flung football destinations: from Jujuy, Tucumán, Chaco and Santiago del Estero up north to chilly whale and penguin-spotting mecca Puerto Madryn in the depths of Patagonia.
Picking up where they left off this year will be no easy task. Tigre, the last team to find themselves in this unusual situation back in 2019, undoubtedly struggled to juggle continental cup distractions with the gruelling demands of the second-tier game and failed to gain an instant return to Primera. But the Matador by and large kept their team together, made it back in 2021 and impressed throughout the past season; and if they can do it, who is to say the plucky Entrerrianos cannot follow their lead?