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River Plate still making waves outside top flight
By Rex Gowar
As Argentine Football Association chief Julio Grondona put it, River are not adapting to the second division, the B Nacional is adapting to River.
The record 33-times first division champions still command front page headlines on a par with arch-rivals Boca Juniors – during a season in which the biggest club match in the country, the “Superclasico” is missing from the fixture list.
It has been five years since away fans were banned in the second tier of the game in Argentina, principally for security reasons.
Now the Argentine Football Association has lifted the ban. This is because the rest of the B Nacional want to cash in on having River as opponents, especially in home games.
It started at the weekend when Daniel Vila, the politically-ambitious president of Independiente Rivadavia, a team based in the Andean province of Mendoza, encouraged River fans to go to their home game against the giants from Buenos Aires.
They were not supposed to look like River fans, keeping their colours partially hidden and leaving flags and banners at home, but the chanting, which goes on almost al match, was there.
River won 3-1 to take their tally to six points from two games. They beat Chacarita Juniors, first division champions in 1969, 1-0 at home last week.
Club president Daniel Passarella has strengthened the side now coached by recently retired former Argentina midfielder Matias Almeyda with players of top flight standard including Alejandro Dominguez, a success in six seasons in the Russian first division, and Fernando “Little Bull” Cavenaghi who helped Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux win Ligue 1 in 2009.
Why didn’t Passarella recruit such players six months ago to make sure River avoided relegation in the first place?
This question has been on many fans’ lips in recent weeks. But Passarella, showing the arrogance that helped make him one of the world’s great defenders when he led Argentina to their first World Cup title as captain in 1978, believed River could never go down.
He learnt that hard way that even his great club were not untouchable. Now the idea is to come back up as quickly as possible.
B Nacional teams wanting to provide tickets to away fans must first get permission from the security authorities in their cities.
This will apparently be no problem for the other teams in Buenos Aires, like Huracan, or Rosario Central, four times first division champions who were relegated last year, or Gimnasia from La Plata, also a top flight side for most of their existence who were relegated along with River in June.
The B Nacional are in for the ride of their lives. And many of the more modest teams in the first division could be forgiven for pangs of jealousy.
PHOTO: River Plate’s Facundo Affranchino (2nd L) fights for the ball with and Chacarita Juniors’ Sebastian Pena (L), Sebastian Ereros (2nd R) and Javier Paez during their Argentine Nacional B Second Division soccer match at Monumental stadium in Buenos Aires, August 16, 2011. River Plate played their first second division soccer match on Tuesday after their shock relegation from the first division last season. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci