Thursday, September 27, 2007

River Plate: 4 - Botafogo: 2 - Copa Sudamericana 2007

First off, I want to thank River Plate for giving me this joy and accomplishing a true miracle, something that seemed more than impossible to accomplish. Today's game, despite being frustrating most of the time, ended up being a joy to watch and gave the fans one of the biggest celebrations in a long time.

River began the game very offensive-mindedly. The team constantly attacked and almost found the first goal at the 4th minute, just to be incredibly missed by Ariel Ortega. After that "los millonarios" kept on attacking, and seemed like they had the situation under control until Federico Lussenhoff gave away the ball and left a Botafogo player one on one with Juan Pablo Carrizo. Fortunately, our goalkeeper avoided the goal and left the match at a 0-0 score. As if that warning wasn't enough, though, Lussenhoff lost the ball again a few minutes later. This time, the ball ended up in the net and resulted in a score that favored the Brazilians just 11 minutes into the game. This meant that "la banda" had to find atleast three goals to qualify, making the task look very complicated.

After Botafogo's opening goal, River could not find the tie. Fortunately, Radamel Falcao Garcia made a fantastic header and put the match back on level terms at the 30th minute of the first half. The team was then able to get back on track, but missed several clear chances.

In the second half, River still had to take care of the complicated mission of scoring two more goals (remember, a 2-1 win would have eliminated us due to the away goal rule). To make things worse, Federico Lussenhoff was expelled out of stupidity in the beginning of the second part of the match. This left River with just 2 defenders (N. Sanchez & Ferrari; Villagra had previously been substitued) and opened up all sorts of spaces for Botafogo. The Brazilian side took advantage of this and found the partial 2-1 win and could have even found an extension to the lead.

Things could not have gotten worse, right? WRONG! In fact, at the 72nd minute of the game Oscar Ahumdada was directly expelled, leaving River with only two defenders and no defensive midfielder. But this is just when the miracle began: in the next 5 mintues, River flipped the score with yet another goal by Radamel Falcao Garcia and one by Andres Rios. Some fans, who had left the stadium early due to no faith in the team (lame fans.. not wanted in the Monumental), ran back quickly after hearing the news. The whole stadium was now filled with more faith than ever, and the fans did not stop cheering on the players. Then, the expected moment finally arrived: at the 91st minute, Ariel Ortega centered the ball, only to have the Colombian Falcao put it through the net again. The fans were now delirious, promising to not bring the party to an end for a long time.

In conclusion, River created a miracle that wasn't expected by even the most optimistic fan. Displaying some poor football, no one expected a team with only 9 players to score the necesary 3 goals in less than 20 minutes. Fortunately, the squad was full of heart and passion, and got through this tough situation by giving their best.

The Player Review -
Juan Pablo Carrizo: One of the players who showed the most love for the jersey. Besides avoiding a possible 0-1 score in the first minutes, he played with his heart and even attempted to find a goal at the end of the match when the score was still 3-2. Aguante Carrizo!
Cristian Villagra: "Kity" played a pretty good match. I never really liked this guy, but today he contributed a lot to the attack and gave a splendid assist-worthy pass to Ortega early on in the game. He was substituted in the second half by Matias Abelairas.
Nicolas Sanchez: The ex-Nueva Chicago player had the difficult task of keeping a strong 2-man defense in the second half. He didn't have a very good night, but it is complicated to shine when being so lonely in the back.
Federico Lussenhoff: Absolutely horrible. You can even go as far as saying that the final result was River: 4 - Lussenhoff: 2. Both goals were either directly or indirectly his fault. Not only did he help our rivals score, but he also didn't defend well at all and was awfully slow. The good news? His expulsion guarantees that he won't play in the next Sudamericana match.
Paulo Ferrari: Similar story as Sanchez's. He was one of the two defenders, and had a difficult mission.
Fernando Belluschi: Belluuuuuuschi, Belluuuuuuschi!! Another great game for the ex-Newell's Old Boy's midfielder. The #8 was pure heart, running everywhere from the first minute and fighting for every ball as if it were the last one he'd ever touch. No goals this time for Fernando, but a great game nonetheless.
Oscar Ahumada: The defensive midfielder played a good match, especially in the second half when he had to go back very often to fill the empty spaces. He stopped Botafogo's possible 3-1 lead on the goal line, and did very well until he was expelled.
Augusto Fernandez: Contradictory to his usual form, Fernandez played a poor match and barely appeared. He had one clear opportunity to score, but failed to do so.
Ariel Ortega: "El Burrito" had a good night and was important for the team. Yes, he did miss two very easy one-on-one opportunities with the goalkeeper, but that doesn't eliminate the fact that he gave some very good passes and the last minute assist to Falcao. If anyone on this team plays for the jersey, it's Ortega.
Radamel Falcao Garcia: What a game for the Colombian! Of our four goals, three of them were scored by Falcao, each of them being stupendous. This was the Falcao we first saw debut for River in 2005. Let's hope that he's able to maintain his form and continue on this positive scoring spree.
Andres Rios: The youngster got another chance to start and scored once again. His goal was vital, for it was the shot that put us up for the first time in the game. Other than the goal, he participated a lot in the team's plays and had an overall good performance.

The Substitutes -
Matias Abelairas: The leftie came in for the last 40 or so minutes, replacing Villagra. He helped out in the attack, as well as in our defense after Lussenhoff's expulsion. Nothing fantastic, but not bad either.
Nicolas Domingo: This guy is amazing. I've been saying it for a while now, and I'll continue saying it: Nico is the closest thing we have to Javier Mascherano. This guy is full of skill and ability, and proved it in last year's 3-1 win over Boca Juniors in the Superclasico. After a long injury, he returned to the first team today. Although he didn't start and only played the last 15 minutes, he left his mark. He recuperated a lot and eliminated Botafogo's offensive threat. He also kept the ball up in Max's (Botafogo's goalkeeper) area. Hopefully we get to see him start in the Quarterfinal game over Ponzio (Ahumada will be suspended).
Marco Ruben: The ex-Rosario Central foward did not have enough time to leave his mark. He entered when the game was still 3-2, in search of that required fourth goal. He was not able to find it (luckily Falcao was), and in fact did not even touch the ball very often.

Last but not least, we cannot forget about the fans. The whole stadium was filled with fanatics who sang their hearts out from the beginning till the end. The Fox Sports en Espanol commentators noted that their constant support marked it's influence in the result, something I agree with.

We were all left with a pleasant surprise today. A night which painted to be a dark one was transformed into a glorious day thanks to the players' heart and will to win the game. For now, Daniel Passarella will be able to sleep at night.

In the Quarter-Finals we will face either Defensor Sporting (URU) or El Nacional (ECU). Due to the abundant 3-0 win in the first leg, everything seems to indicate that we will be traveling to Uruguay for the next game. But if we learned anything today, it's to not relax so easily, for anything can happen. Thanks River for this joy!

River, Gracias Por Esta Alegria!

Oh my gooooooood! I am speechless right now.

River: 4 - Botafogo:2.

For those who weren't able to see the match, look for the review within the next hours. It was truly amazing, and you do not want to miss this story.

- Gonzalo

Edit: Here are the highlights of the game:


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

River - Botafogo: The Preview

After an unsuccesful week, which included losses to Botafogo and Tigre, everything seems to indicate that Daniel Passarella's second cycle in River is coming close to an end. Although nothing has been confirmed, a loss to Botafogo tomorrow could result in the departure of our coach. A victory, on the other hand, would most probably result in his stay at the club, though if he doesn't eventually win either the Apertura or the Sudamericana, he will be gone in December.

Lots of rumours have been going around about a disconnection between the squad and Passarella. Despite that, Ariel Ortega stated in public that everyone is united and that the team will be looking to go all out to win championships.

With that said, the following eleven will play from the first minute tomorrow:

Juan Pablo Carrizo;
Paulo Ferrari-Nicolas Sánchez-Federico Lussenhoff-Cristian Villagra;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-Fernando Belluschi;
Ariel Ortega;
Andres Ríos-Radamel Falcao Garcia;

With Carrizo remaining in goal, it seems as if Passarella has found the defense to be the main reason why we conceded four goals vs. Tigre. In fact, only one defender will be in the same position as on Sunday (Nicolas Sanchez). The rest will be different: Ferrari will move to the left side, Lussenhoff will replace Danilo Gerlo, and Villagra will come in for Leonardo Ponzio.

Due to Alexis Sanchez's injury, everything seemed to indicate that Ruben and Falcao would be the regular starters, at least until Rosales returned. Surprisingly enough, Ruben will be on the bench since the "Kaiser" decided to opt for youngster Andres Rios instead. With Ruben currently in poor form, Rios could be the solution to find the speed lost without Alexis Sanchez.

Botafogo will be arriving with a rested squad, having played with mostly subs on Sunday vs. Fluminense. This is an advantage, but they also do have skilled players. As mentioned in last week's preview, Dodo is the main threat. But besides him, I noticed a very gifted player in the first match. The player whom I am speaking of is 26 year old midfielder Ze Roberto. With his amazing gameplay on the pitch, there is no question why the Botafogo player won the Silver Ball of the Brazilian National tournament last year.

In order to get through to the Quarter Finals of the Copa Sudamericana, River must win tomorrow's match. Neither a tie or a loss will get the job done, so the team literally has no other option but to win. Keep in mind that this is an International tournament, meaning that not all wins will get us through: a 2-1 victory would automatically give Botafogo the qualification, due to the away goal rule. Stated ahead are the rules for the qualification process:

- Tie or Loss: Botafogo Qualifies.
- 1-0 win in favor of River: The match proceeds to a penalty shootout.
- 1 goal difference in favor of River, but with Botafogo scoring (i.e.: 2-1, 3-2, 4-3, etc.): Botafogo Qualifies.
- More than 1 goal difference in favor of River (i.e.: 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, etc.): River Qualifies.

As you may see, River has to go out looking to get a good difference. At the same time, the team shouldn't leave big gaps in the back: a Brazilian goal will give us a tough time, causing us to score atleast 3 goals to get through.

The match will be shown live on Fox Sports en Espanol at 4:00 PM Pacific / 7:00 PM Eastern Time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tigre: 4 - River Plate: 1 - Torneo Apertura 2007

It finally seemed as if River Plate were getting their act together. Several interesting wins had been accompanying the team at home, yet the phantoms in our away games are still present. Just like vs. San Martin (SJ), we were humiliated yet again by another recently ascended team. This time it was Tigre, who managed to literally destroy us by putting the ball past the net four times.

One of the most unfortunate things happened just barely two mintues into the match: Alexis Sanchez was fouled by Tigre captain and defender Juan Blengio, and had to be substituted by Radamel Falcao Garcia. The most tragic part of the story is that he'll be out for three months, and won't make another appearance for the remainder of the year. Ironically, Argentine ref Saul Laverni did not even call a foul in favor of River for this play. He would later make more horrible decisions, though it still isn't an excuse for the team's poor level of play.

Tigre managed to find an early goal in the first half, but it wasn't till the second part of the game that the demolition began. "El Matador"'s second goal arrived through a clear handball, though the referee surprisingly failed to see it. This opened the door for the third goal, which arrived just two minutes later. River was eventually able to minimize the difference, thanks to Marco Ruben, but this didn't help much: in the 84th minute, Tigre scored the finishing goal to finalize a 4-1 match.

As if his failure to see the foul vs. Sanchez and Tigre's handball weren't enough, Laverni finished up the match with two more controversial decisions: Ariel Ortega was shown the second yellow at the 86th minute for a foul that wasn't even equivalent to a card. What was even worse was when Rene Lima was expelled at the 92nd minute. Just two minutes after entering the field, the defensive midfielder barely tapped a Tigre player (his first foul in the match) and was directly shown the red card. Can someone explain to me how this equals an expulsion, yet directly injurying a player for the rest of the year, like our rivals did, isn't even considered a foul? There is no logical explanation to this, but it could have highly changed the game. If Tigre's main defender and captain was expelled towards the beginning of the match, they would have lost a lot of offensive power and might have even lost. Other decisions, such as the allowance of a handball goal, were also vital.

Either way, River's performance was far from satisfying. With some very bad individual displays, especially from Leonardo Ponzio, Nicolas Sanchez, and Danilo Gerlo (three starting defenders yesterday), we were outplayed by a small club that had not beaten River for decades. In fact, the press is now stating that there is a huge disconnection between Daniel Passarella and our team squad. With the exclusion of German Lux last year, rumours were given that the team would not get along well with the coach. A few months later, Diego Galvan expressed his disconnection with the "Kaiser". Now, Passarella randomly decided to replace Juan Marcelo Ojeda with Juan Pablo Carrizo, despite the good performances delivered by the ex-Rosario Central goalkeeper. This was said to cause disharmony in the locker rooms, which could be an understandable explanation to the teams poor result vs. Tigre. With important matches vs. Botafogo and Boca Juniors coming up soon, this must be the worst moment for this situation to occur. One thing that worries me tremendously is the possibility of the players losing games on purpose so Passarella leaves in December, as he had promised. In a way, it would be good news to see the airs refresh and have a change on the bench, but it would be more than drastic to have to wait till June 2008 to have another possibility to win a tournament.

If the team is unsuccessful vs. Botafogo on Thursday, River will be eliminated in the first round of the Copa Sudamericana once again. If this occurs, will Daniel have the courage to stay, or will he finally show some respect and take a step aside?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tigre - River: The Preview

River will be facing the recently-ascended Tigre tomorrow, in an important match for the Argentine Torneo Apertura 2007.

The following eleven are going to start:

Juan Marcelo Ojeda;
Paulo Ferrari-Nicolas Sanchez-Danilo Gerlo-Villagra/Ponzio;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-Matias Abelairas;
Ariel Ortega;
Alexis Sanchez-Marco Ruben/Radamel Falcao Garcia

Most of the regular starters will be present, with a few inevitable changes here and there:
- Eduardo Tuzzio is still injured, leaving Danilo Gerlo the starting spot for the 3rd game in a row.
- Fernando Belluschi will finally make up the one additional suspended match he had from the match vs. Estudiantes. Matias Abelairas, our young and talented left-wing, will be taking his spot.

There are also a few doubts:
1) With Tuzzio still unavailable, we still need a left-back: even though Cristian Villagra has played in this position many times, he has been underperforming. Either way, he still has chance of playing. If not, Leonardo Ponzio will play the right-back position, and Ferrari will move to the left.
2) Marco Ruben is another player who hasn't been impressing lately. With Alexis Sanchez guaranteed a spot, the ex-Rosario Central player will be fighting for the other foward slots. Radamel Falcao Garcia also has a 50/50 possibility of playing.

Meanwhile, Tigre have been planning a sleek and sneaky attack throughout the tournament. Not only are they one point away from us, but they also have the second top goalscorer of the tournament: Leandro Lazzarro. The foward has already scored six goals (the same amount as Belluschi) and has been on fire from the first day. One thing is for sure: Tigre should not be taken as a small rival. They are doing well, and will become even stronger in front of their home crowd. We already know how River does vs. the "smaller" teams (do Gimnasia (JJ) and San Martin (SJ) ring a bell?). Let's just hope the story changes tomorrow.

The match will be shown live on TyC Sports USA at 10:00 AM Pacific / 1:00 PM Eastern Time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Botafogo: 1 - River Plate: 0 - Copa Sudamericana 2007

River were not able to get over the "away-from-home-phobia" tonight vs. Botafogo. Unfortunately, the result ended 1-0 in favor of the Brazilian side, though River deserved to atleast tie it in the second half.

The first half was all Botafogo. The offensive 4-3-3 formation by Passarella proved to be useless, with River not having a single clear chance in the first 45 minutes. There was pretty much no midfield, so how was the ball going to get to the fowards? Despite not playing amazing football, the home side managed to take advantage of our coach's mistake and had a few potential shots. After some unsuccessful attempts, Joilson finally put the ball through the net at the 44th minute of the match.

The second part of the game was a completely different story. With Matias Abelairas replacing Rene Lima and Sixto Peralta coming in for Marco Ruben, River returned to the original 4-3-1-2 formation. The players were then able to control the ball, as well as the game. Unfortunately, none of our shots went into Max's goal, leaving us with a mission to win next Thursday in the Monumental.

The Player Review -
Juan Pablo Carrizo:
In his first game since his return from Rome, Carrizo played a good match. Despite not having any amazing saves, he stopped a few shots and had no responsibility in Botafogo's goal.
Cristian Villagra: The ex-Rosario Central defender is still failing to leave a positive image. Either way, he had a complicated task of keeping the goal free from players like Joilson.
Nicolas Sanchez: Decent match. Some positive points, some negative ones. Since his arrival, he has left a good image, but does not look irreplaceable either.
Danilo Gerlo: "Paco" was our best defender during the 90 minutes of the game. He may have not had a Roberto Ayala performance (in fact, he was far from it), but he did a good job in completing his duties.
Emmanuel Martinez: The 18-year old was our only defender to not receive a yellow card. Still, he showed signs of not being ready to be in the starting line-up yet. For now, Paulo Ferrari will not have to worry about losing the right-back position.
Fernando Belluschi: Belluschi was one of our best players, especially in the second half with a playmaker next to him. It wasn't a fantastic match for the #8, but he was still one of our most dangerous players.
Leonardo Ponzio: Ponzio recuperated several balls, but did not provide the expected offensiveness to the team. During the match he played three different positions (right midfielder, defensive midfielder, and right back), doing his best in the last one.
Rene Lima: Tonight's game resulted in a poor match for the youngster. Contrary to what he showed in other matches, Lima was doing everything wrong. He often tried to surprise our rivals by making quick plays, but gave away the ball every time.
Alexis Sanchez: The Chilean was chosen man of the match by Fox Sports en Espanol. His speed and jukes helped him become a real threat. He produced one of our clearest opportunities, yet failed to find other players that were at his level.
Marco Ruben: Our #9 did not touch the ball much in the first half (he was not present in the second part). Still, it wasn't necessarily his fault, since the ball wasn't arriving much up front.
Radamel Falcao Garcia: The Colombian did well in a few occassions, yet wasn't a major threat.
The Substitutes -
Matias Abelairas: The left-wing came in for Rene Lima, who was having a poor match, and completely changed the game. The good passes weren't his only contribution, though: he ran up and down the field the whole time, and appeared through the left, right, and middle.
Sixto Peralta: I was surprised by "Mumo". It's not that he gave a stellar performance, but he did give some nice passes and created a few good plays.
Oscar Ahumada: Oscar entered in the middle of the second half. He gained possession for River every now and then, and was much more solid than Ponzio.

Even though it wasn't the worst River we've seen, the squad lacked the good football shown at home vs. Estudiantes, Velez, and Lanus. Either way, we were missing 5 starters (6 if you count Ojeda), including key players in both our defense and offense. Botafogo did not play a great game either, making me believe that a win next week in the Monumental will not be impossible, especially if our starting eleven are present. Aguante River!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Botafogo - River: The Preview

River will be facing Botafogo tomorrow, in what will be our official debut in this year's edition of the Copa Sudamericana. The Brazilian side will be presenting their new stadium, the Joao Havelange Olympic Stadium (pictured above), and will be looking to continue their good run in the tournament. The following eleven players will start for River:

Juan Pablo Carrizo;
Emmanuel Martinez-Nicolas Sanchez-Danilo Gerlo-Cristian Villagra;
Leonardo Ponzio-Rene Lima-Fernando Belluschi;
Radamel Falcao Garcia-Alexis Sanchez-Marco Ruben;

Believe it or not, River will be fielding a 4-3-3 formation. It's been an extremely long time since "los Millonarios" last played with three fowards. Still, everything seems to indicate that Alexis Sanchez will be a few feet behind Ruben and Falcao, playing the role of an offensive playmaker.

Despite the clearly offensive-minded formation, many of our key players will be missing the match. Augusto Fernandez, Ariel Ortega, and Eduardo Tuzzio all stayed in Buenos Aires. Having played injured in the last few games, Daniel Passarella decided to finally give them all some well-deserved rest. Paulo Ferrari, River Plate's starting right-back and team captain, and Oscar Ahumada, our defensive midfielder, are in a similar situation, though they will actually have a spot reserved on the bench.

So who will replace these players? Tuzzio and Ferrari's spots will be taken by Danilo Gerlo and youngster Emmanuel Martinez, while Leonardo Ponzio will be covering Augusto Fernandez's empty space. Rene Lima will finally get more minutes, taking over the defensive midfielder slot. The day will also mark the return of Juan Pablo Carrizo and Nicolas Domingo. Unlike the goalkeeper, Domingo will not start, but he does have possibilities of entering in the second half.

One player to watch out for in Botafogo's offense is Dodó. The 33-year old has scored an impressive 300 official goals. Since his arrival to the Brazilian club, Dodó has kept a ratio of 0.74 goals per game (84 goals in 113 matches). The talented Brazilian will pose a serious threat to River's defense, who, to top it off, will have some "brilliant" defenders (sarcasm) such as Gerlo and Villagra starting. Next to these two will be Emmanuel Martinez, who barely has a few games in Primera. The defense doesn't seem to be too strong, and should not be anything to play around with. Will the outcome be positive or negative?

The match will be shown live of Fox Sports en Espanol at 3:30 Pacific / 6:30 Eastern Time.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

River Plate: 3 - Lanus:1 - Torneo Apertura 2007

With two goals by Fernando Belluschi and one by Alexis Sanchez, River Plate managed to defeat Lanus in a convincing manner and continue the positive winning streak at home. Unfortunately, both Boca Juniors and Independiente won their respective matches over Banfield and Colon. Either way, today's win was essential for our 2007 campaign: a loss would have left us 7 points from the top.

You may be asking yourself, why the picture of the Lanus player? Well, to tell you the truth, this has been a great week for me: I was able to witness Victor Zapata (aka the worst River player ever) with another jersey last Sunday, and today I watched the runner-up for that position (Jose Sand) play for Lanus. Since I was forced to suffer so much when Sand played for la banda, this moment was truly a pleasure to watch. As if his failure at River wasn't enough, Sand insulted the home crowd after his lucky goal. So after having to put up with his endless streak of missing clear goalscoring opportunities for River Plate, he pays us back like that? Jose, you have always been a failure, still are an underachiever, and will always be the same old lame player you are!

The Player Review -
Juan Marcelo Ojeda: The ex-Rosario Central goalkeeper did not have much to do throughout most of the match. He could have done better on the play that ended up resulting in Lanus' goal, but overall he did not do bad.
Eduardo Tuzzio: Eduardo, accustomed to being a central defender, took over Cristian Villagra's role of left-back today and did a good job. Unfortunately, he got injured in the first half and had to be replaced by Leonardo Ponzio. No word is out on how extreme his injury is, but he will most likely miss the match vs. Botafogo.
Nicolas Sanchez: The young central defender, who has started in all nine games this season, played a good game and looked solid throughout the match.
Danilo Gerlo: The ex-Quilmes player was able to play his first game since the 2007 Peace Cup. He had a decent match: nothing too espectacular, nothing too horrible.
Paulo Ferrari: Following Tuzzio's substitution, Ferrari was forced to move to the left side. He accomplished his mission and did everything to get the merits he deserves. Besides keeping the left side safe, he did not forget to attack and even contributed to two of the goals.
Fernando Belluschi: The ex-Newell's Old Boy's player had a fantastic night once again. He contributed to the attack, ran up and down the field all the time, and scored two goals. He has now scored six times this season, making him the top scorer of the team for now.
Oscar Ahumada: Yesterday's match was a "normal" game for Oscar.
Augusto Fernandez: Does this guy ever have a bad day? He never stops surprising the opponents, and is currently experiencing a good moment just like some of his other team-mates.
Ariel Ortega: "El Burrito" returned to the starting line-up after his injury and had more than one clear opportunity to score. Even though he missed many chances, he clearly attempted to give his all and did not forget to contribute to the squad with those precise passes. This may have not been the best "Burrito", but there is no doubt that the team benefits from his prescence.
Alexis Sanchez: The "Wonder Kid", as he is known in South America, made another great appearance and put the ball past the net for the second time since his arrival at the Monumental. His speed, jukes, and passes confuse the opponents in a fantastic way, which will most definitely help River during the season.
Marco Ruben: The ex-Rosario Central foward looked more active than in other matches, yet was unable to score. Still, he looked to find the ball as much as possible, which is a good thing. Careful, though: there still is a looot of room for improvement.

Halfway into the season, River find themselves 4 points from the two league leaders. Will they be able to continue the good football and reach the top, or will the mysterious irregularities take over and leave the team behind with yet another title lost?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

River - Lanus: The Preview

River Plate will face the always-difficult Lanus tomorrow, for the 9th round of the Torneo Apertura 2007. Despite the many games we have been playing lately, Daniel Passarella has decided to continue playing the same "regular" starters, keeping in mind that a loss would leave us 7 points from the league leaders Independiente.

The following eleven are expected to play from the first minute:

Juan Marcelo Ojeda;
Paulo Ferrari-Nicolas Sanchez-Danilo Gerlo-Eduardo Tuzzio;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-Fernando Belluschi;
Ariel Ortega;
Marco Ruben-Alexis Sanchez;

With "el Kaiser" putting the best he has, the question remains: is he doing the right thing? Sure, losing would affect us tremendously, but playing some of these players might just mean postponing our loss. Augusto Fernandez, Oscar Ahumada, and Marco Ruben have been playing injured for a while now, and we could easily replace them (Abelairas for Fernandez, Ponzio for Ahumada, and Rios for Ruben). Tuzzio also isn't 100% fit, and Ortega is just barely returning from an injury. What may be a minor problem now could end up evolving to a major injury, causing us disastrous results in the future. Is it worth it, or would have it been better for Passarella to put at least one or two of these players on the bench?

Meanwhile, Lanus are currently in their best moment this season. Having started off weakly, "el Granate" found a way to dig themselves out of a hole and eventually eliminate Estudiantes from the Copa Sudamericana. Besides that, they defeated teams tough teams like San Lorenzo and Banfield, and are now only 2 points away from the top of the table. A player to watch out for will be ex-River Plate player Jose Sand. I did not like him at all when he wore la Banda, but this season alone "Pepe" has scored 5 goals (more than any River player, at the moment). He's not the only good player, though: Diego Valeri, who is currently being linked to Boca Juniors, is a talented left-midfielder who has already put the ball past the net 3 times during this tournament. Lautaro Acosta, who will probably be playing as a foward alongside Sand, was important for the Argentine U-20 National Team this year, and has put in some very good performances for Lanus as well. If it's not obvious by now, my point is that Lanus has a very talented squad, and will be anything but easy to defeat.

The match will be shown live on Fox Sports en Espanol at 12:00 PM Pacific / 3:00 PM Eastern Time. It will also be shown on tape delay on Fox Soccer Channel, at 2:00 PM Pacific / 5:00 PM Eastern Time.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

River to Face Botafogo

With a global score of 5-2 over Corinthians, Botafogo managed to defeat the Brazilian giants and get through to the next round of the Copa Sudamericana 2007. They won both games (3-1 at home; 2-1 away) and will be facing River Plate in the Round of Sixteen of the South American tournament.

The first match is scheduled to be played in Rio next Tuesday, which brings plenty of worries to me: how will River play vs. Lanus on Sunday, hop on the plane to Brazil on Monday, and be ready to play the next day? This sounds awfully ridiculous, especially considering that we have played 8 matches in the last 24 days (in that time frame we normally play 3 games).

The second match, this time being without a flight to a different country, won't be much better: we will have to host the Brazilians a few days after playing vs. Boca Juniors. After having the players exhausted from (hopefully) playing their best in the Superclasico, it would have been a much better idea to schedule the match for a different week or, if it had to be played within those seven days, play it on Thursday.

Edit: The three trustable sources I found all updated their dates, and the first match will actually be played on Wednesday, not Tuesday. Despite meaning one additional day to rest, I still do not think it is safe for our players, who have been playing 3 matches in 8 days for the last three weeks. The second one, meanwhile, will be played on Thursday, September 27th, meaning that the squad will not have a single week without a match on a weekday until after the Superclasico.

As for the tournament as a whole, it may not seem too important, but I want River to win it for two reasons:

1) With the lack of International tournaments in the last decade for the club, it would never be a bad idea to introduce a new tournament to our trophy case.
2) The winners of the Copa Libertadores and the Copa Sudamericana face each other in the Recopa of the next year. Yup, you guessed it: winning this tournament would make us face Boca Juniors for the Recopa Sudamericana 2008, giving us the possibility to win another International tournament, this time in front of our arch-rivals. Even though it's been a while, nothing would be better than revenge for the 2004 Copa Libertadores elimination to the "bosteros", right?

Only time will tell what will happen. This would be the ideal time to win the Copa Sudamericana, but will River live up to the challenge or frustrate their fans once again?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Arsenal: 2 - River Plate: 1 - Torneo Apertura 2007

River lost 2-1 today to Arsenal de Sarandi. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the match, forcing me to minimize my comments on the game.

We started off well, parcially winning 1-0 with a goal by Marco Ruben. But the home side was able to tie the match in the second half and eventually win it in overtime (goal by ex-River player Javier Gandolfi). The rain was said to be a huge disadvantage to the game play, and supposedly ruined some of River's plays.

With both Independiente and Boca Juniors winning (3-0 vs. Huracan and 2-0 vs. Olimpo, respectively), we are now 4 points away from the first place spot. Some positive news: Ariel Ortega, Radamel Falcao Garcia, and Alexis Sanchez are all scheduled to return for Sunday's match vs. Lanus.

For those of you that are still interested in a longer, more in-depth review, feel free to check out Cristian's River Plate blog.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Arsenal - River: The Preview

River will be facing Arsenal de Sarandi tomorrow, in what will be our 8th match of the season. With several players missing, the team will be looking to stay close to Independiente, who won 3-0 over Huracan today. With these crucial 3 points, the "red devils" have managed to find a 4 point lead over River Plate, despite having 1 additional match played.

With Ariel Ortega, Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao Garcia, and Mauro Rosales still unavailable, Daniel Passarella will field the following eleven players tomorrow:

Juan Marcelo Ojeda;
Paulo Ferrari-Nicolas Sánchez-Eduardo Tuzzio-Cristian Villagra;
Augusto Fernández-Oscar Ahumada-Fernando Belluschi;
Sixto Peralta;
Marco Ruben-Andres Ríos

With Ruben recuperated from the small injury he experienced on Sunday, we will be seeing the same eleven that started vs. Velez.

The one player River will have to be careful with is Jose Luis Calderon. Already being an established goleador, he managed to return to Arsenal this season and is currently their top-goalscorer.

Arsenal started the season in a bad way, but managed to revert their situation and are at their peak at the moment. In fact, they just eliminated San Lorenzo in the Copa Sudamericana 2007 (they won the 2nd match 3-0) and also beat the current Argentine champions by 4-2 in the league.

The match will be shown live on TyC Sports USA at 11:oo AM Pacific / 2:00 PM Eastern Time.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

River Plate: 5 - Velez Sarsfield: 0 - Torneo Apertura 2007

With 5 of 6 fowards missing due to injuries and International matches, our game for the 7th round of the Torneo Apertura pictured to be one with not too many goals, in any at all. To make things worse, Marco Ruben got injured early on in the game and had to be substituted by youngster Juan Antonio. Luckily the rest of the team (excluding Sixto Peralta) was on fire, an outstanding performance by Fernando Belluschi.

The team was once again able to play a fantastic overall game, proving that they are finally finding their rhythm. Besides the amazing goals (3 by Fernando Belluschi, 1 by Andres Rios, and 1 by Augusto Fernandez), the squad showed good teamwork and nice passes. With the win (and Boca's loss to Colon), we now have 12 points and are just 1 point away from the league leaders (Independiente, Tigre, and Boca Juniors).

The Player Review -
Juan Marcelo Ojeda: The goalkeeper didn't have much to do. At the beginning of the match Velez was very offensive, causing the ex-Rosario Central goalkeeper to make some great saves.
The Whole Defense: In the first half, the defense was very shakey. They improved in the second half, but this may be due to Velez's insufficient offensive power.
Augusto Fernandez: The right-midfielder continues on his run of good games. His speed and jukes are just amazing. He contributes a loooot to the team, not to mention his amazing shot that resulted in River's 4-0 lead. The negative news? If he continues with this great streak, it won't be too long before Aguilar sells him.
Oscar Ahumada: Oscar did a very good job recuperating the ball. He seems to improve every match, and I would love to see him keep up his current form.
Fernando Belluschi: Simply the man of the match. With 3 goals (all three being "golazos") and great team-play, Belluschi played his best game in a long time by far. I'd give the ex-Newell's a rating of 7 of 5 stars!
Sixto Peralta: I was not convinced by Sixto when he arrived at the club, and I still am not. He is slow, imprecise, and does not contribute much to the squad. I would much rather see youngsters like Diego Buonanotte or Sebastian Sciorilli receive a shot over "Mumo".
Marco Ruben: The ex-Rosario Central foward did not have enough time to do much. Unfortunately, he got injured early on in the match and has been added to the long list of unavailable players. For now, there is no word till when he will be gone.
Andres Rios: The youngster did well and even scored a goal. In fact, his goal was very important, fore it opened up the match for "los milllonarios". It may have not been perfect, but it was a positive display for Rios, who will probably start in our game for the next round.

Videos of the Goals:
23rd Minute: 1-0 (Andres Rios)
46th Minute: 2-0 (Fernando Belluschi)
61st Minute: 3-0 (Fernando Belluschi)
69th Minute: 4-0 (Augusto Fernandez)
82nd Minute: 5-0 (Fernando Belluschi)

Which one was the best goal? Truthfully, they were all great. Make sure to leave a comment leaving your opinion.

On Wednesday we will face Arsenal de Sarandi, a team that is currently ascending in gameplay and are becoming more and more dangerous as time passes. It will be a tough test, but if River get through it, they will prove to be a serious contender to keep the title.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

River - Velez: The Preview

River will be facing Velez Sarsfield tomorrow, in what will be yet another decisive match for the squad. We are currently experiencing a few problems up front, which will almost surely take away a big part of our offensive power. In fact, only 1 of our 6 fowards will be fit anr ready to play:

- Alexis Sanchez is away with the Chilean National Team.
- Radamel Falcao Garcia is away with the Colombian National Team.
- Mauro Rosales is injured.
- Ariel Ortega is injured.
- Rolando Zarate is neither on international duties, nor injured, but is not fit to play the complete 90 minutes.

All these problems leave Marco Ruben as our only first-team foward who will be able to start. The result of this has caused Daniel Passarella to call up youngster Andres Rios to train with the top squad, where he will be one of the 11 starters on Sunday.

Another problem is that with Ariel Ortega's injury, River also lost a playmaker. This was a fundamental part of the team, and the change in gameplay has been obvious since we returned to the 4-3-1-2 formation. Unfortunately, "el Burrito" was our best bet in this position. Diego Buonanotte, Fernando Belluschi, and Augusto Fernandez all had a possibility of taking over the role, but the chosen one was Sixto Peralta. This will mean that one of the other 3 offensive midfielders that played vs. Newell's (Belluschi, Augusto Fernandez, and Abelairas) will have to wait on the bench.

The following players are expected to play from the beginning:

Juan Marcelo Ojeda;
Paulo Ferrari-Nicolas Sanchez-Eduardo Tuzzio-Cristian Villagra;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-Fernando Belluschi;
Sixto Peralta;
Marco Ruben-Andres Rios;

Velez will be a tough team, and their ranking shows it: they are currently only one point away from Boca Juniors, and will be needing this win just as much as we do. They have some great players in the squad, including creative midfielders Damian Escudero and Sergio Sena. Up front, Gustavo Balvorin and Santiago Silva are no strangers to scoring, and should be taken as a serious threat.

The match will be shown live on Fox Sports en Espanol and Fox Soccer Channel at 12:00 PM Pacific / 3:00 PM Eastern Time.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

River Plate: 3 - Newell's Old Boys: 1 - Torneo Apertura 2007

River Plate defeated Newell's Old Boys by a margin of 3-1 yesterday, in what was the make-up of the suspended match of the second round.

River started off winning 1-0, when a controversial penalty was awarded to "los millonarios". Just like in the game vs. San Lorenzo, Ariel Ortega exchanged the penalty shot for a goal. Unfortunately, though, he got injured upon shooting the ball (something similar to what happened to Hernan Crespo in the Copa America) and will be out for a few weeks.

In the second half, the lead was extended to a margin of two goals thanks to Radamel Falcao Garcia. Newell's were able to minimize the loss later on in the match, but that didn't last too long: Matias Abelairas (substituted the injured Ortega) took an excellent freekick and gave River the necessary relaxation to win the game.

Here are the highlights of the match:

With the win, River is now just 4 points away from Boca (current league leaders) and have gotten on track and up to date with the league schedule. The long series of games has brought it's consequences, though, and it is now becoming evident: Ariel Ortega and Mauro Rosales will be out for a while, while Augusto Fernandez has mentioned that he is not fully fit. Regarding Augusto, Real Madrid have expressed an interest in the youngster and have sent scouts to decide if they want to take him soon or not. Fernandez is one of my favorite players on the team, and it would be a shame to see him leave at such a young age and with so little games with "la banda". Hopefully he stays for a few more years, but that sounds nearly impossible with Aguilar & Co. at charge.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

River - Newell's: The Preview

River Plate and Newell's Old Boys will be facing each other tomorrow, in what will be a make-up of the postponed match of the second round of the tournament. Both sides have been somewhat irregular this season and would be a lot closer to the top with the three points.

With Alexis Sanchez currently training with his national team and Mauro Rosales injured, Daniel Passarella will be lacking his usual surplus of fowards. Besides them, several youngsters are out due to injuries, leaving Marco Ruben, Radamel Falcao, and the out-of-shape Rolando Zarate as the only players in that position. Will this problem make "el Kaiser" consider Ortega as a foward and temporarily return to the 4-4-2 formation? Hopefully not.

This is the expected line-up for now:

Juan Marcelo Ojeda/Juan Pablo Carrizo;
Paulo Ferrari-Nicolas Sanchez-Eduardo Tuzzio-Lussenhoff/Villagra;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-Fernando Belluschi;
Ariel Ortega;
Radamel Falcao Garcia-Marco Ruben;

With the Chilean Sanchez currently out of town, River could take advantage of the Article #225. This law would allow Fernando Belluschi (suspended for another game) to play, due to having another teammate unavailable because of International duties. If he plays or not is up to Passarella, but his good performance vs. Estudiantes make me believe that he has high chances of starting. Besides him, there are other questions remaining: Will Ojeda continue playing, or will Carrizo regain his spot in goal? Will Lussenhoff return to the bench, or will Tuzzio play as #3 and leave "el Colorado" as one of our two central defenders? Villagra's performances have been quite bad, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Lussenhoff or Ponzio start over him. It is more than obvious that there are maaaany uncertainties. Make sure to check this page in the future for updates.

Edit: According to the Argentine press, the following 11 are pretty much set to start vs. Newell's:

Juan Marcelo Ojeda;
Paulo Ferrari-Nicolas Sanchez-Federico Lussenhoff-Eduardo Tuzzio;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-Fernando Belluschi;
Ariel Ortega;
Radamel Falcao Garcia-Marco Ruben;

As for Newell's, they are a tough opponent who have won 3 games, including important wins over Estudiantes, San Lorenzo, and Velez Sarsfield. Despite having lost key player Oscar Cardozo during the pre-season, they still have a strong squad and should be a taken as a big threat. Santiago Salcedo is a very talented Paraguayan foward, and he will have important teammates such as Damian Steinert to accompany him. They also have a very strong defense: in 5 matches, they received 4 goals, the lowest amount in the tournament. That is less than one goal conceded per match, and they've had some very difficult rivals!

The match will be shown live on TyC Sports USA at 12:00 PM Pacific / 3:00 PM Eastern Time.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Racing Club: 1 - River Plate: 1 - Torneo Apertura 2007

Yesterday's match vs. Racing Club brought up several thoughts to my head, regarding everyone and questioning the obvious, as well as the inconceivable. Some of these speculations will be expressed later on in this post, but let's start off with what happened on the pitch.

Racing started off winning with a goal by Facundo Sava, their current top goalscorer. The match opened up thanks to a well-taken penalty shot by "el Colorado". Nothing strange, right? Wrong.. The truth is, a foul never existed! This isn't the first time we are victims of incorrect decisions, though: just in this tournament, we already have had two penalties made up against us (vs. San Martin (SJ) and Racing Club), one goal conceded after a clear foul against our player (vs. Gimnasia (JJ)), and several bad minor calls (inexistant free-kicks against us, fouls not called in favor of our team, etc.). Now, what could be the reasoning behind this? It could simply be the result of poor performance by referrees, but it may also go further than this. Without confirming anything, I think this could be a plot by the AFA (Argentine Football Association) against Daniel Passarella. "El Kaiser" has been making controversial decisions since his return, such as critizing the association and referrees, not following certain rules (i.e. - having both teams enter the field at the same time), etc. After promising to leave River if he doesn't win a title by December, this could be the perfect opportunity to have AFA's "rebel child" leave. A campaign against River would pretty much assure his departure. ONCE AGAIN, I am not confirming anything, nor saying that it is probable: it is just a possibility that came up to mind.

Back on topic: River managed to tie the match in the second half with a goal by Federico Lussenhoff, the same defender that the ref Saul Laverni "saw" commit a foul that resulted in Racing's penalty. We all celebrated the goal, but it was worrisome nonetheless. The question I asked myself is how a 33-year old defender can score a goal, yet our young & talented fowards cannot. Marco Ruben was basically absent throughout the evening, while Radamel Falcao Garcia found many ways to open up and get the ball (a merit itself), yet missed SEVERAL clear chances.

We may not have played well, but we could have easily found a win vs. Racing. The loss has left us 7 points away from new league-leaders Boca Juniors. With one game less, we could minimize the difference to just 4 points on Wednesday when we face Newell's Old Boys. Will River take advantage of their situations or continue avoiding possibilities to get closer to the top?