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SPORTS | 26-11-2021 23:10

Relentless River clinch title, ending seven-year drought

What at one point appeared to be a tense race to the finish for River eventually turned out to be a procession. Celebrations at a packed Monumental were echoed in Tigre, who secure return to the top flight.

While there are still a few weeks left before Argentine football signs off for its summer holiday, arguably the two biggest prizes on offer this season have already been snapped up. In both cases, there was good news for the northern portion of the Greater Buenos Aires Metropolitan area.

What at one point appeared to be a tense race to the finish for River Plate eventually turned out to be a procession. Talleres' 5-2 defeat to Gimnasia on Tuesday left the road open for the Millonario to seal the first Liga Profesional title with three games to spare and they did so in typically professional relentless fashion, winning 4-0 against Racing Club – coached, as was not lost on anyone owing allegiance to the Núñez club, by erstwhile Boca Juniors icon Fernando Gago – at the Monumental and sparking raucous celebrations inside the packed stadium, conveniently enough back at full capacity for the first time since the start of the pandemic thanks to the relaxing of stadium restrictions earlier in November.

Not even the latest speculation involving Marcelo Gallardo's future could knock River off their stride. ‘El Muñeco’ has recently been linked with the now-vacant Uruguay job following Óscar Tábarez's dismissal, and it is easy to see why his name has come up in Montevideo. The home team were in control throughout as they racked up their 11th league win in the last 12 games, breaking the deadlock through Agustín Palavecino in the first half before Julián Álvarez swooped to double the advantage with his 17th goal of the season after the break - 15 of which have come during that magic run to the title. Braian Romero's late double merely rubbed further salt into the wound for Racing, who along with Boca Juniors at least have the distinction of having denied Gallardo's River a title during their successful 2014 run right at the start of his reign. Seven years, La Academia on can only hope this forgettable season ends as soon and relatively painlessly as possible.

Having come so close to league glory and ultimately ending up empty-handed earlier in Gallardo's tenure, they ultimately made it look almost effortless. The seven-year drought thus came to an end, bringing the coach’s trophy haul over the last seven years to 13, and the emphatic fashion in which River clinched the crown is perhaps a fair reflection of the superiority which they enjoy over almost all their peers currently in the local game, thanks largely to the efforts of the Midas-like man on the bench.

But River were not the only team with cause to celebrate this week. On Monday Tigre returned to the top flight which they last departed as Copa de la Superliga champions in 2019, prevailing in a play-off over Barracas Central.

The Matador had already impressed in merely reaching the final, by virtue of a stunning victory over San Martín in Tucumán, but against Barracas they enjoyed the advantage of overwhelming neutral support. Infamous as the team of AFA president Claudio 'Chiqui' Tapia, Barracas' own path to the play-off was not without controversy as their last match against Villa Dálmine came under the spotlight due to accusations of shady payments to opposition players in order to throw the match.

“I heard there was a vote among the players to decide who would play as usual and who would take a dive,” ex-Dálmine player José Basualdo maintained in a radio interview. “You could smell something in the air, if it was really like that it's a real shame for my team to be involved in that situation. I think play normally won by the single vote.” 

Marcelo Franchini, the club's coach, later confided to Olé that he was forced to suspend training because of the “bad feeling” inside the squad.

Both Basualdo and Franchini will now have to repeat their statements before a formal investigation into the match, but in any case there was to be no repeat as Tigre pulled through with a tight 1-0 win to claim the first of two promotion spots on offer this season to the top tier. 

Barracas will have a second chance of reaching the promised land in the ongoing play-offs but this week belonged to the exultant side from northern Buenos Aires side, who next year will join the other 27 Liga Profesional in what right now seems a daunting task: wresting the title off a side and coach who are heads and shoulders above the rest right now.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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