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SPORTS | 18-02-2022 20:31

Plenty to report, on and off the field, as football returns from its summer holidays

River and Boca bounce back after hiccups, 'Pulga' shines again and trouble in the stands… just another day at the office for this most unpredictable, chaotic, infuriating and enchanting of leagues.

The long wait for fans across Argentina ended last weekend as professional football finally returned from its summer holidays. The quality of the action might be disputed in certain demanding circles, but in terms of pure quantity at least it proved the most eventful of restarts.

Like the proverbial flood after a drought, the first week of the 2022 season featured a double-header of fixtures, meaning that no fewer than 28 matches in the Copa de la Superliga alone flooded our stadiums and screens. And for those who are fond of jumping to hasty conclusions especially, it proved most fruitful.

River Plate, for example, were ready to be written off just three months after storming to their first league title under Marcelo Gallardo when, despite adding the likes of Esequiel Barco, Juan Fernando Quintero and Emanuel Mammana (to name just a few) to their already dominant squad the reigning champions fell away to Unión. This 'crisis' in any case proved fleeting. Four days after that hiccup the Millonario came back in storming fashion to inflict further pain on hapless Patronato.

The Paraná side were thrashed 5-0 back in November and suffered again on Wednesday as River strolled to a 4-1 victory. New Manchester City signing Julián Álvarez – still at the Monumental for the next few months and perhaps until the end of the year on loan – in particular enjoys his meetings with the club: having netted four in their last clash, Argentine football's golden boy hit a hat-trick to take his own tally against the club to seven in two games. It was his team-mate Enzo Fernández, though, who caught the eye of River's guest of honour, French World Cup winner Robert Pires, who observed that the dynamic young midfielder “always offers a solution to his team-mates, he is great on the ball” when grilled on what he had seen by ESPN after the final whistle.

Boca Juniors too bounced back from a rather tepid start to the Copa to end the week in good standing. Darío Benedetto's strike to mark his emotional return to the Bombonera on Sunday was cancelled out late on by Lucas Beltrán to earn Colón a 1-1 draw, but the Xeneize responded with a strong performance in Mar del Plata as Aldosivi were dispatched. Copa Superliga holders Colón also impressed in seeing off Godoy Cruz, largely thanks to Luis 'Pulga' Rodríguez's customary wizardry, while Argentinos Juniors and Estudiantes both recorded back-to-back wins to rule the roost early on in the tournament, which still has 12 rounds to complete before the top four teams in each group progress to a play-off competition.

Off the field too, there was plenty to report upon. Refereeing training chief Federico Beligoy confirmed that the ever-polemic VAR technology would be landing in the Copa from the eighth round onwards – coincidentally, or perhaps not, just after the derby round which sees Boca travel to the Monumental for the first Superclásico of 2022. Even more significantly, widespread reports point to the return of Argentine football's prodigal sons: away fans, who have been banished in disgrace from stadiums up and down the land for almost nine years, and could now be hanging their banners and hurling insults at their counterparts from afar as soon as the fourth round.

This bombshell must be taken with a pinch of salt, given that official confirmation from either the AFA, national or provincial government bodies have been almost non-existent aside from the usual platitudes. The reaction from club presidents too has been decidedly lukewarm, particularly those representing those fortunate teams who have become accustomed to filling out their grounds with no help needed from visitors.

If any warning were necessary that we must proceed cautiously, the Huracán faithful and Mariano Andújar obliged when the Estudiantes goalkeeper, tired of constant barracking from the terraces, almost sparked a riot at the end of his side's 3-2 win when he directed a combination of punches through the fences of the home end. Leandro Díaz too provoked the Globo wrath by simulating a machine gun after netting, which gave us without a doubt the unlikeliest hero (or in this case, heroine) of the opening week: the elderly Huracán fan who assured to cameras that “He's crazy... we have to kill him.” Just another day at the office then for this most unpredictable, chaotic, infuriating and enchanting of leagues.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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