By Jack Tilghman
With just five rounds left to go in the Argentina Apertura, the title race is coming down to the wire, while other teams battle to earn a spot in next year’s Copa Libertadores, South America’s version of the Champion’ League.
Godoy Cruz vs. Banfield
The action gets underway Friday night when Godoy Cruz hosts Banfield in Mendoza. If the tournament ended today, Godoy Cruz would be the first team from Mendoza to ever qualify for South America’s premier club competition, while Banfield sits just one point behind Newell’s Old Boys for the last spot.
Banfield coach Julio Cesar Falcioni could be leaving to join Boca Juniors, and Friday’s match could be his last in charge of El Taladro, with whom he won the 2009 Apertura title.
Godoy Cruz rely on Colombian Jairo Castillo and brilliant playmaker David Ramirez, who should take advantage of a distracted Banfield.
Prediction: Godoy Cruz 2 Banfield 1
Estudiantes de La Plata vs. Huracan
Saturday, joint-leaders Estudiantes de La Plata hosts Huracan in a massive game with title implications. Luckily for Estudiantes, goalkeeper Agustin Orion will return from injury after his replacement Cesar Taborda made a costly error in Estudiantes’ 2-1 loss to Tigre.
As usual, the success of Alejandro Sabella’s team will revolve around the midfield axis of captain Juan Sebastian Veron and Rodrigo Braña, considered the best central partnership in Argentina at the moment.
The only worrying point for Estudiantes is the lack of a true number nine (out and out striker) to bang in the goals as Mauro Boselli did last season, but even so, Estudiantes should have enough to beat the struggling Huracan.
Prediction: Estudiantes 1 Huracan 0
Gimnasia de La Plata vs. Velez Sarsfield
Interestingly, Estudiantes’ main rival for the title, Velez Sarsfield, travel to La Plata to face the archrival of Estudiantes: Gimnasia. Gimnasia finds itself in deep relegation trouble, but at the same time the fans and players realize that a victory would be a massive favor for their enemies from up the road. Quite a conundrum for The Wolf.
Velez will rely on the potent strike force of Santiago Silva and Juan Manuel Martinez who have each scored eight goals so far this season, while playmaker Maxi Moralez, who has just been called up to the Argentina National Team, supplies the bullets.
Gimnasia have picked up their results in recent weeks, but Velez is far superior and with the best forward line in Argentina, it should be a walk in the park.
Prediction: Gimnasia 1 Velez Sarsfield 3
San Lorenzo vs. River Plate
Although the game has little meaning in terms of Copa Libertadores places, River Plate takes on San Lorenzo in Sunday’s Clasico, and it appears that River coach J.J. Lopez will keep the same team for the first time all season, although Paulo Ferrari is in doubt with a hamstring problem.
San Lorenzo coach Ramon Diaz is a club icon at River Plate for his time as a player and coach, and has recently come under fire by San Lorenzo fans who suspect he will leave the club to rejoin River in January.
Diaz fell out with Uruguayan striker Sebastian Balsas (who won’t even be on the bench) while playmaker Pipi Romagnoli will miss out through injury, leaving Los Cuervos without their two best offensive players.
River will rely on the work ethic of striker Mariano Pavone and the magic of young star Erik Lamela and grizzled veteran Ariel Ortega to provide the goals in what should be a win for Los Millonarios.
Prediction: San Lorenzo 0 River Plate 2
Racing vs. Quilmes
Racing is the only traditional “Big Five” club from Argentina with a chance at qualifying for the Libertadores, and will have a huge chance to gain more points against bottom side Quilmes at home in Avellaneda.
After snatching two late goals to topple Newell’s Old Boys on the road last week, Racing is full of confidence and should be able to count on Colombian superstar Giovanni Moreno, who returned from international duty in good condition.
Quilmes finally picked up its first win of the season by toppling Godoy Cruz 2-1 last week, but Racing will be a much sterner test, especially in front of their raucous home crowd. Expect Moreno and striker Pablo Luguercio to be imperious.
Prediction: Racing 2 Quilmes 0