Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Transfer Market: May 21st Update

As always, news regarding possible transfers related to the club has been surfacing the streets of Nunez. In a single post, here are all the updates of the 2008 off-season transfer market:

Players Out

Matias Abelairas: "Pitu" may well be on his way to Europe, after rumours state that Lazio are preparing a 5 million euro offer for the midfielder. If he doesn't leave with Carrizo to the Italian side in June, he still has chances of wearing a different jersey.

Cristian Villagra: Just when the left back began to play regularly well for River, it seems like he will move over to a team in the "Old Continent". Villarreal (Spain), Catania (Italy), and Olympiakos (Greece) would be just some of the many options for "Kity".

Alexis Sanchez: It is nothing new that the talented youngster has extremely small chances of remaining at the club after the Clausura. So what's the point of this note? Well, Independiente have expressed their interest in the Chilean and actually have a good chance of contracting him on loan after he leaves River. I could see it already: we face "el Rojo" in the Copa Sudamericana and are eliminated to the hands of Sanchez (ala D'Alessandro).

Radamel Falcao Garcia: The forward was just one step away from migrating to a different club in January, but he decided that he wanted to stay at least one more season. Now, the Colombian will probably not have a choice, and the offers will come flying in. Who will be his replacement?

Eduardo Tuzzio, Danilo Gerlo, Cristian Nasuti, Leonardo Ponzio, and Mauro Rosales: Their time in River seems to be coming close to an end. The only way these players are expected to stay is if a tempting offer does not arrive in the halls of the Monumental.

Players In

Pablo Aimar and Roberto Ayala: The two historic River players are currently playing for Real Zaragoza, who recently descended to the second division of the Spanish league. This is just one of the reasons why Jose Maria Aguilar has decided to go after the duo. Still, it seems impossible that they'll join our squad for next season due to economic reasons. Also, doesn't the same article mentioning their possible arrival appear on Ole/Clarin/La Nacion every six months?

Andres D'Alessandro: If the Aimar operation isn't successful, it is said that "los millonarios" will go after "el Cabezon". Just like the Aimar and Ayala, this transfer would be very complicated to achieve. The question is, if River are after him now, why didn't they put the money to buy him when they had a chance in January?

Ariel Ibagaza and Sebastian Leto: River will go after the two midfielders who are currently playing in Europe. It's pretty much the same story as always. I can see Aguilar already: "We couldn't bring you Aimar or D'Alessandro, but we did bring Ibagaza and Leto!".

Hilario Navarro: River would be looking for a replacement for Carrizo, and Racing's goalkeeper could be one of the main targets. The negative? His knee injury does not impress the dirigentes.

Gustavo Cabral: Diego Simeone has been pleased with the ex-Racing defender's performance this season, and has requested that the management transform his loan into a permament incorporation for River.

Dario Conca: The attacking midfielder played a key role for Fluminense today, who succesfully eliminated candidates Sao Paulo from the 2008 Copa Libertadores. He is on loan from River, and unless somebody purchases him, he should be returning in June. With so much talk of bringing in a new playmaker (Ibagaza, Aimar, D'Alessandro, etc.), could the solution to our problem be in our own hands?

Surprisingly enough, I kind of like this. Although we could be losing many great players (Falcao, Augusto Fernandez, Ponzio, Alexis Sanchez, Abelairas, etc.), we've been having a similar squad for the last few years now and things haven't too gone well. I believe that this could be the right time to clean out the squad and refresh the starting eleven with youngsters/new players.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Independiente: 0 - River Plate: 0 - Torneo Clausura 2008

River Plate tied 0-0 with Independiente on Sunday, finishing the match with a score that pretty much sums up the 90 minutes played between the two. The lack of clear chances created by the team, as well as their inability to play well against the "big" teams, is starting to raise a concern within the general fanbase. With only four games left and two points away from Estudiantes, will River be able to lift the trophy in a month?

Although not too much action was seen on the pitch vs. the "Red Devils", this has been a very (unnecessarily) active week for "los Millonarios":

- Defensive midfielder Oscar Ahumada tried to take some of the weight off his shoulders and suggested that the quietness by the River fans after San Lorenzo's first goal (second leg of the Copa Libertadores match up) may have been the reason why our rivals were able to find the second goal just minutes later. To make things worse, he then mentioned Boca Juniors' fans and how he witnessed them chanting strongly despite being down 2-0 to River a few years ago. First off, he couldn't have possibly said anything worse to a River fan (how can he compare us to a group of fans that places black flags and abandons the stadium when the team is doing bad?). Second, the momentary quietness was due to shock and disbelief of what was actually occuring. Throughout the rest of the game the fans made noise and were amazing - it's proven by the following video:

As a consequence of his incredibly surprising and thoughtless words, not only did Oscar receive an economic fine from the club, but he was also the main target of 7,000 River fans on Sunday who insulted and had flags put up against him. He's been playing great lately, but I don't know if I want to see him with River next season after his statement.

- As if the Copa Libertadores elimination and Ahumada's statements weren't enough, another conflict came to light just a few days later. Argentine newspaper Ole published an article mentioning that members of the current River squad were discontent with idol Ariel Ortega, and supposedly let Diego Simeone know that they weren't happy sharing the locker-room with "el Burrito". Rumors then started circulating that Ortega would no longer be with River next season, with Barcelona of Ecuador and a few Mexican clubs expressing interest in the #10. Upon hearing the rumours, River fans sang the following song at our last game:

In a quick summary, the songs pretty much say that Ortega will not leave River and that he must play (he's been a substitute for quite a while now). Ariel returned the praise to River fans, saying he loves them and that he wants to play the remainder of his career with "la banda". Still, a few words don't guarantee anything. One question arises: is this all a press invention to make River's situation worse and sell newspaper, or is Ortega's spot really at risk?

- Lazio of Italy are said to be preparing a 5 million euro offer for midfielder Matias Abelairas. It is amazing to believe that the same player we were getting ready to offload to a small Argentine club in January is now wanted by a historically strong team and for a very interesting sum of money. If he were to leave to the Rome-based side, he would be joining the Italians along with Juan Pablo Carrizo in June.

Our next Clausura game will be on Saturday vs. Huracan in the Monumental. A loss could nearly void River's chances of winning the tournament: if Estudiantes win, we would be 5 points away from Simeone's ex-team, with barely 3 games left in play. Therefore, our aim should be to take all 9 points - not just for the tournament, but also to assure ourselves a spot in the 2009 Copa Libertadores.

Monday, May 12, 2008

River Plate: 4 - Gimnasia (LP): 2 - Torneo Clausura 2008

River Plate returned to victory after two weeks by defeating Gimnasia (LP) by 4-2 for the the 14th Round of the Torneo Clausura 2008.

To make things worse after the mid-week elimination in the hands of San Lorenzo, "los Millonarios" began losing the match. Things could have gotten even worse, though the posts were on our side and prevented 3 clear opportunities from being transformed into goals. River finally seemed to get on track with a fierce shot by Matias Abelairas the tied the match, though not much longer a defensive disconcentration let Gimnasia find the 2-1 lead before heading to the locker rooms for half time. The first 45 minutes ended and the Monumental stadium was pure havoc. The fans, who were already deeply hurt from the match vs. San Lorenzo, became frustrated from River's poor performance vs. a very mediocre team. The away side were completely controlling the match, River's midfield didn't seem as if they were present, and the defense was more fragil than glass. Something had to be done during half time if the team aspired to fight for the title this season.

Diego Simeone must have had an inspirational speech during the 15-minute break, because the team entered the field with a new attitude and a different style of play. This quickly led River to put the match back on level terms (2-2 by Buonanotte) and then flip the score (Matias Abelairas and Ariel Ortega). The squad ultimately ended up converting strong mumbles and insults from the crowd into applauses and cheer. Now, what was this change of performance due to? Oscar Ahumada entered the field during half time to replace Leonardo Ponzio and brought the missing defensive strength to the pitch. Ariel Ortega was also subbed-in, and added pace (what was missing on Thursday vs. CASLA) and created plays. He made several clear chances for the team, including to one-on-one's. Diego Buonanotte and Alexis Sanchez -two players who played from the start- heavily improved for the last 45 minutes, after both having a very poor first half.

The goals:

Thanks to San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors's losses, River now find themselves more comfortable in the standings. With five games remaining, the top positions in the rankings look as follows:

1) River Plate - 30 Pts.
2) Estudiantes - 30 Pts.
3) San Lorenzo - 27 Pts.
4) Velez Sarsfield - 27 Pts.
5) Independiente - 26 Pts.
6) Boca Juniors - 26 Pts.

An exciting last portion of the tournament awaits us. Independiente, who have slowly crept up behind River and Estudiantes, are on a five match winning streak and must face us next Sunday. The other top teams will also be experiencing "clasicos" next weekend, with Boca receiving Racing, Estudiantes facing arch-rivals Gimnasia (LP), and San Lorenzo playing their derby vs. Huracan.

Friday, May 9, 2008

River Plate: 2 - San Lorenzo: 2 - Copa Libertadores 2008

After an initial 2-1 loss in the first game of the two-legged Copa Libertadores Round of Sixteen match match vs. San Lorenzo, "los Millonarios" needed to find a victory to qualify to the next round. Unfortunately, the final result was 2-2, leaving River out of the cup.

River actually played an overall good match. They dominated 80 of the game's 90 minutes, and played some of the best offensive football we've seen this season. We were unlucky not to put the ball past the net more than two times. Despite our 2-0 lead (goals scored by Matias Abelairas and Sebastian Abreu) with just 20 minutes remaining, San Lorenzo were able to tie the match with two men less on the pitch thanks to Gonzalo Bergessio, who scored two goals in just three minutes.

Now who is responsible for this? Just about everyone. Let's review:

- The Players: How could they let a comfortable lead slip, especially while playing 11 on 9? Not only that, but the defense showed poor marking on both goals (see video above).
- Jose Maria Aguilar: One of the first decisions when River's current President assumed was to not renew Ramon Diaz's contract and let him go. The same Ramon who won a record-breaking titles with River, has flipped San Lorenzo horrendous past (they finished as a midtable team and lost 7-1 to Boca in the season previous to his arrival) into a glory filled present. Aguilar was also presented with opportunity to bring back club idol Andres D'Alessandro, but chose to rather spend money on the likes of Cabral, Archubi, and Abreu. Guess who made the assist in San Lorenzo's second goal? You guessed it.
- The Referrees: Sergio Pezzotta had a terrible night, disallowing a valid goal by Sebastian Abreu, not calling a clear penalty in favor of River, and not expelling Andres Silvera (the forward later played a key role in San Lorenzo's first goal). In the first leg of the series, Hector Baldassi alaso showed poor performance: the FIFA International awarded the "Cuervos" a controversial penalty which sealed their 2-1 win. He should have also shown Gonzalo Bergessio a red card.. yes, the same player who ended up scoring the two goals in the second match
- Diego Simeone: Our coach committed some errors during the match. "El Cholo" took out Augusto Fernandez -who was playing a great match offensively, and was also one of the players who recuperated the ball most- in the second half and brought in Mauro Rosales. He did this with the score already 2-0 in our favor. Of course, upon doing this the defense became fragile and San Lorenzo found their way to the draw. Was it necessary to take out one of the best players on the field and bring another one who has no clue when it comes to defending? Besides, if what he was looking for was offensive power, he should have put in Ariel Ortega instead. Surprisingly enough, "el Burrito" ended up watching the whole match from the bench and didn't even play a minute. This was a game for Ortega, and if there's any player on the squad that knows how to play these games it's him.

The past is not editable, but the future can be changed. As seen above, pretty much everyone committed mistakes on the night where failure was the last option. Hopefully they learn from their errors, because failures are now becoming way too common in the Monumental.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

River Plate Eliminated From Copa Libertadores

River Plate tied 2-2 vs. San Lorenzo tonight and have been eliminated from the Copa Libertadores 2008. Before anything, I must clarify that it's incredible that the players let the match go, being up 2-0 with 2 players more than San Lorenzo. I also blame this partially on our President Jose Maria Aguilar: he let Ramon Diaz go, and also didn't grab D'Alessandro when he had a chance. This came back to leave us out of the most important tournament in existance for River. Despite that, we should also remember the poor reffing. Let's do a quick re-cap:

1st leg (2-1 in favor of San Lorenzo):
- Controversial penalty in favor of the home side which gave them the victory.

2nd leg (2-2):
- Goal by Abreu that was disallowed. Replays show that he was not offsides.
- Clear penalty for River when the match was up 1-0, yet the ref fails to call it.
- Silvera should have been expelled for hitting Tuzzio. Not long after, the same player plays the key role in San Lorenzo's first goal of the night.

As mentioned previously, I cannot believe our players let this game slip. It is truly an embarrassment to be eliminated when up 2-0 and the rivals being down by 2 men. But, honestly, there were too many clear ref errors in favor of San Lorenzo. Had they not existed, River probably would have qualified with ease (we would have had 2 goals extra, and San Lorenzo 2 less). It is inevitable to ignore this.. who knows, maybe our present would have been different.

A more detailed review on the match is expected to be posted later.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

River - San Lorenzo: The Preview

River Plate will be looking to secure their permanency in the Copa Libertadores 2008 tomorrow. In order to remain in the competition, "los millonarios" must finish the 90+ minutes of the match vs. San Lorenzo with a victory.

Diego Simeone has decided to make few changes as compared to last week's game, and will only bring in Diego Buonanotte for Rodrigo Archubi. The rest of the team will remain the same, meaning that both Ariel Ortega and Alexis Sanchez will once again be substitutes. Therefore, the starting eleven are expected to be:

Juan Pablo Carrizo;
Paulo Ferrari-Gustavo Cabral-Eduardo Tuzzio-Cristian Villagra;
Augusto Fernandez-Oscar Ahumada-M. Abelairas-Diego Buonanotte;
Radamel Falcao Garcia-Sebastian Abreu;

San Lorenzo will nearly repeat their formation and line-up. As quoted from last week's preview "Their most dangerous player -without a doubt- is Andres D'Alessandro. The ex-River player is full of jukes, precise shots and accurate passes. Add that to the fact that he'll be looking to prove himself to his current team's fans (he was accused of faking an injury in the game against us earlier on this season), which makes him even a bigger threat. Forwards Andres Silvera and Gonzalo Bergessio should also be looked after, with the first being a historic goalscorer, and the second being on a good scoring streak as of late."

River literally has to win. A draw or a loss will expell the team from the competition, due to the fact that we lost the first match of the two-leg series by 2-1. In fact, certain victories would even leave us out (3-2, 4-3, 5-4, etc.; because of the "away goal" rule). So how can we qualify? Well, the only way we will automatically get through with a "minimal difference" result is by winning 1-0. A 2-1, meanwhile, would take the match to extra time and then -if necessary- penalties. Any result with a difference of 2 goals or more in favor of River, on the other hand, would grant us access to one of the eight Quarterfinal match-ups.

Luckily, this time Fox Sports en Espanol will be airing the match live at 4:30 PM Pacific / 7:30 PM Eastern Time.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Boca Juniors: 1 - River Plate: 0 - Torneo Clausura 2008

River Plate lost to Boca Juniors by 1-0 in the 13th Round of the Torneo Clausura 2008. Unfortunately, the team lost more than just a Superclasico: a victory would have left River with 3 points more than Estudiantes (who lost 2-1 vs. Argentinos Jrs.) and 7 more than Boca. Since the Xeneizes won, "los millonarios" are now sharing the first place spot with Estudiantes and San Lorenzo, with Boca just one point away from the trio.

River did not show any clear signs of good football. In fact, the team hardly had any clear chances, with Abreu's header towards the end of the match being the only one coming to mind. The only people who put on a show were River's fans, who received the team with over 3,000 red-and-white balloons in the stands:

Don't get me wrong, Boca weren't all that magnificent either, but they had a few chances and were able to clinch the three points thanks to this header by Sebastian Battaglia that finished inside the net:

River's poor performance left every Riverplatense a bit worried and upset, though -surprisingly- it didn't affect me too much. I think it's a bit because we are still on top in the rankings (..and Boca is still behind us), but mainly because of the excitement of awaiting the Copa Libertadores match vs. San Lorenzo. Unlike yesterday's game, if we lose or tie on Thursday (and in certain cases even if we win), we will be eliminated from this year's edition of the tournament. We've lost two extremely important games this last week, but the most important one of the three still remains. So here's hoping the best for "la banda". Vamos River!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Boca - River: The (Mini) Preview

Starting Eleven:
Juan Pablo Carrizo;
Danilo Gerlo-Nicolas Sanchez-Eduardo Tuzzio-Cristian Villagra;
Leonardo Ponzio-Matias Abelairas;
Alexis Sanchez-Ariel Ortega-Diego Buonanotte;
Radamel Falcao Garcia
Boca Key Players: Juan Roman Riquelme (Midfielder) and Rodrigo Palacio (Forward).
Boca Surprise Player: Jesus Datolo (Midfielder)
Television Broadcast: Live on Fox Sports en Espanol and Fox Soccer Channel at 11:00 AM Pacific / 1:00 PM Eastern Time.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

San Lorenzo: 2 - River Plate: 1 - Copa Libertadores 2008

River Plate lost 2-1 to San Lorenzo in a typical Copa Libertadores match, which was full of excitement, tension, fights, and controversial moments - all at once.

The home side began winning 1-0 thanks to Andres Silvera. Luckily, Radamel Falcao Garcia was able to find the net a few minutes later, allowing "los Millonarios" to tie the match for the moment. Despite eventually losing, this goal may end up being important since it was an away goal (if we win 1-0 in the Monumental, we would qualify automatically to the next round).

Everything went well in the first half. River were controlling San Lorenzo's attack, yet they still went out looking to score. Unfortunately, the proposition changed a bit in the second half, when Simeone opted to play a counter-attack style of football and allowed Ramon Diaz's team to reach Carrizo's goal more often. Although we suffered at times, it seemed as if "el Cholo"'s plans were going well towards the end of the match. We were leaving with a 1-1 tie, which would force San Lorenzo to look for a win in next week's game. But the game was not yet over: in the 87th minute, referree Hector Baldassi called a controversial penalty that Adrian Gonzalez exchanged for CASLA's victory. What happened exactly in the play? The ball bounced of Alexis Sanchez hand, who in my opinion had no intention to hit it. To top it off, he was pushed by a San Lorenzo player, causing his hand to clash with the ball. Not much time was left after this for "los millonarios" to find the draw, and the game ultimately ended 2-1.

The Player Review -
Juan Pablo Carrizo: The goalkeeper did not have fault in either one of the two goals, and once again made some fantastic saves. Placente had a potential shot in the first half that could have made things a lot worse for River, yet JP stopped the shot and kept River alive.
Paulo Ferrari: The best player on the field. When he attacked he was dangerous (made the assist in Falcao's goal), and when he defended he was lethal. No one could get past him, and he amazingly won several balls. In the past, he wasn't exactly known for his defending abilities, but I've been noticing a huge improvement in this aspect of Ferrari's style of play. He had a fantastic game, as simple as that.
Gustavo Cabral: Poor performance. He failed to do his job correctly. Nicolas Sanchez seems to be the better option for his position at the moment.
Eduardo Tuzzio: Tuzzio was solid, despite being verbally abused by Gonzalo Bergessio (the foward brought up the infamous conflicts Tuzzio had with ex-River defender Horacio Ameli). At times, he also fought with Andres Silvera.
Cristian Villagra: The best defender behind Ferrari. He completed his tasks and efficiently stopped several attacks.
Augusto Fernandez: The right-winger started off playing a great game, though his performance dropped as time passed. Either way, he had an overall good game, being a key player in the offensive part of the team, yet also knowing when to return to help in the defensive duties.
Oscar Ahumada: The defensive midfielder was not horrible, but did not impress me either. It wasn't his best game, though he didn't commit errors either.
Matias Abelairas: A key player in the circulation of the ball, especially in the first half.
Rodrigo Archubi: The ex-Lanus player was arguably the worst player on the field. Not in the sense that he committed nonstop errors, but he failed to impress in several ways. The only positive he had was a powerful shot in the first few minutes of the game, but other than that he was very inactive.
Radamel Falcao Garcia: The Colombian had a good game and scored River's only goal with another great header. He fought for every ball with will and passion.
Sebastian Abreu: The Uruguayan incredibly missed a one-on-one opportunity in the 4th minutes of the first half. If that would have gone in, who knows what the final result would have been. Besides that, he had a good game, being helpful in the attack and always returning to defend in set pieces. He left in the second half: would the second goal have existed if he were still on the field?
The Substitutes -
Diego Buonanotte: The "dwarf" entered in the second half and almost scored what would have been a partial 2-1 lead for us.
Alexis Sanchez: The Chilean attempted to leave his mark, but the only way he did so was by giving San Lorenzo a penalty towards the end of the match. Not at all what we expected from the ex-Colo Colo player.
Ariel Ortega: Did not play enough to comment on.

The second leg of this Round of Sixteen match-up will be played next Thursday. We must finish the game with a win if we plan on advancing, though in some cases even a victory won't be enough to get through. Either way, we must first think of the Superclasico vs. Boca on Sunday.

The Goals: