By Jack Tilghman
The last eight tournaments in Argentina have seen eight different clubs win, beginning with Estudiantes de La Plata’s triumph in the 2006 Apertura. Now, it looks like a new cycle of champions will begin after La Pincha won convincingly 4-0 against River Plate in El Monumental Wednesday afternoon.
Playing without suspended star-duo Juan Sebastian Veron and Enzo Perez, most pundits felt that a surging River Plate would be able to throw a wrench in the La Plata side’s title plans, but the it was Estudiantes who showed that they are on the verge of the championship thanks to team strength not individual talent.
Gastón Fernández fired a warning shot against the post after just 45 seconds, and with River on the back foot, Leandro Desábato headed home the opener from Leandro Benîtez’s free kick before two minutes had passed.
Although River’s bright star Erik Lamela hit the woodwork himself with a long range free kick, Estudiantes was never really threatened as Rodrigo Braña bossed the midfield.
Maxi Nuñez got free down the right and his pull back was hammered into the roof of the net by Matias Sánchez leaving the score 2-0 at the half and the 60,000 River fans in shock.
The second half went from bad to worse for Los Millonarios, who lost defender Jonatan Maidana to a second yellow card just two minutes after the break before Marcos Rojo volleyed Benítez’s pass past Juan Pablo Carrizo from the resulting free kick.
Gabriel Mercado added a fourth to finish the route, meaning that Estudiantes only need to beat Arsenal at home in the final match of the tournament to be crowned champions of Argentina for the fifth time in the club’s history.
Veron and Perez will both be back in the line-up, and with a rabid crowd dreaming of another trophy, anything but a run away victory for Alejandro Sabella’s side will be a massive surprise.
For River Plate, the loss was the first under interim manager JJ Lopez, who announced that he will leave his current post and return to director of River Plate’s youth system in 2011, by which time President Daniel Passarella will likely have found a new coach, with current San Lorenzo boss Ramon Diaz, ex-Chile and Argentina boss Marcelo Bielsa, and Estudiantes’ Sabella the main candidates.