Monday, January 21, 2013

Compared to Brazilian mess, the Argentine championship appeared normal... but was it? It was puzzling to a foreign eye. To begin with, Argentina run two separate championships in a single season and had two champions correspondingly. There was nothing in common between the two – different formats and different participants. The Metropolitan was classic league format – first league, second league, and so on further down, with normal promotion-relegation, and the usual schedule of every club playing a home and away match against everybody else. The team with most points ended first, those with least – at the bottom of the final table. To my knowledge, it was the largest league in the world – 23 teams! England had 22. But after 44 games for the Metropolitano, the National championship started... with 32 teams, divided in 4 groups. Different structure: at first every mini-league played 2-legged traditional championship. The winners went ahead to 2-legged semi-finals , and after that – two-legged final decided the champion. So far, so good... most of the participants were those playing in Metropolitano First Division, familiar names. But the rest were entirely different clubs, not to be found in neither First, not Second Division: Circulo Deportivo (La Plata), Independiente Rivadavia (Mendoza), Central Norte (Salta), Sarmiento (Chaco), Atletico Ledesma (Jujuy). Why were they playing at top level was a mystery to outsiders – there was no promotion and relegation here, may be provincial tournaments were conducted before Campeonato Nacional, winners going to the grand stage... unfortunately, the Argentine championship was little known. The foreign public understood Argentine football simply as national team, Boca Juniors, River Plate, and a train of great players. And on top of it, in 1977 the world was concerned with other Argentine news, not the football – the military dictatorship and its atrocities. It was related to football - the question of the Argentine hosting of 1978 World Cup: was it right to play at it; was Argentina able to organize it – such types of questions, having little to do with local championships. Which were traditionally in trouble anyway: short of money clubs, which should have been bankrupt years ago; players strikes; various under the table deals; favours to the big clubs, inevitably leading to favours to smaller ones, just to keep the show running. It was a miracle Argentina was able to run championship at all, but it did. So let start from the bottom.

Primera B, the Second Division, orderly finished its own Metropolitano stage. 19 clubs played in it - why Argentina run odd-numbered leagues is unknown to me, but over there must have been some reason. The last four teams were relegated to Third Division. Among them was Talleres, at 16th place. Talleres had the same points as lucky survivor Almagro – 31, but much better goal-difference – why they were bellow Almagro? May be head-to-head games were decisive? May be... Let's put this aside and go to the champions of Primera B, a club going up to Primera A for the 1978 season. Only one club was getting a promotion, for the top flight was reduced a bit for the next season. The winners finished with 48 points from 36 games, two points ahead of there only competitor, Los Andes. Apparently, the winners were defensive-minded team: they lost only 5 matches, receiving only only 38 goals during the campaign – less then a goal per game average. Everybody else received over 40 goals. Good defense, not so deadly attack, striking only 55 goals. Four teams did better, and the 14th place Arsenal scored 55 as well. The relegated Talleres was not far behind with 50 goals. Defensive or not, Estudiantes (Buenos Aires) won and went up to Primera A.

Top, from left: Balbiano, Cortés, Paz, Bravo, Gérez, Manuel R. Pérez.

Kneeling: Ciccarello, Toloza, Pafundi, Ugarte, Juan Guillermo.

Second division squads normally consist of unfamiliar names and there is little point of even giving them, but still... this is the best ever squad of Estudiantes. Argentine clubs are generally ancient ones, and Estudiantes is no exception: they were found by students (hence, the name) on August 15, 1898. Contrary to their nickname – 'Matador' – they had no success. Never even playing top flight football. Winning Primera B in 1977 is their only success up to now – and their top season is 1978: they were promoted to Primera A alright, but surviving there was another matter: they finished last and relegated, never to return again. So let them bask in their 1977 glory. Well done indeed.