Friday, April 03, 2020
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With the thrilling finale to the Argentine national championship set to play itself out, our man in Argentina brings us the first part of the story (The Ed.).  


Strictly Come Dancing's three-way final has nothing on the Sunday afternoon drama served up by Argentina's Primera Division as it reached a thrilling climax. 


In case you've missed the story thus far, it goes something like this. Heading into the 19th and final date of the division's Apertura season, three teams were tied in first place on 36 points: Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo, and Tigre had each won 12, drawn 3 and lost 4. The first such stalemate in forty years was further complicated by another team, Lanus, sitting fourth on 34 points, and poised to swipe the championship should the other teams fail at the last hurdle.  


Remarkably, Tigre are enjoying only their second ever season in Argentina's top flight, while River Plate, one of the country's preeminent teams, have endured a torrid season, finishing bottom despite winning the Clausura championship in the previous season. 


With all games kicking off at 17.20 on Sunday, the scene was set for a dramatic day's action. Yet the actors didn't quite live up to the gripping scenario. San Lorenzo beat Argentinos Juniors 1-0, an eighth minute goal by Gonzalo Bergessio proving decisive in a tense if underwhelming spectacle. Tigre, meanwhile, bested Banfield by the same scoreline, the game's lone goal arriving just before half time in a drab game, considering what was at stake. 


The real drama unfolded in the cauldron of Boca's raucous Bombonera, where the home team ran into an early 3-0 lead against Colon thanks to goals by Luciano Figueroa (twice) and Juan Roman Riquelme, a pair of players familiar to European fans from their time at Spanish side Villarreal. Yet goals either side of half time from the visitors, courtesy of Nicolas Torres and Lucas Valdermarin, ensured a nervy finish for Boca and the near-60,000 fans crammed on the terraces. Controversially, the game finished ten minutes after the others due to an inexplicably long half-time interval. Fourth-placed Lanus duly won their game, beating San Martin 1-0, yet it wasn't enough to muscle in on the spoils. 


Remarkably, then, three teams complete the season on the same number of points. What makes this most interesting is that the Argentine league doesn't recognise goal difference – that would be far too simple. The trio will enter a play-off tournament, or "pyramid", to be played on the 17th, 20th and 23rd of December, at neutral grounds.  


Tigre and San Lorenzo meet the evening of the 17th, meaning that Boca, winner's of this year's Recopa Sudamericana, have a few extra days to rest and focus on the task. That, alongside their championship mettle and the presence of the ever-innovative Riquelme, makes them the favourites to run out winners; but in one of the most enthralling denouements in recent South American football history, nobody is going to be declaring a victor until the final whistle blows a week from now.

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