THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Boca Juniors and River Plate struggling

icon bigteams26 October ~ In Buenos Aires, the once-intimidating grounds of La Bombonera and El Monumental barely scare anyone these days as their two tenants, Boca Juniors and River Plate, struggle to make themselves noticed. Having won just three of the last 15 biannual titles, Argentina's big two have almost thrown in the towel already in the current Torneo Inicial. One might think it's not easy to cope with big expectations in the context of financial crisis that Argentinian football has suffered, but River and Boca expect success – or at least to play good football.

Between them River and Boca have nearly half of the Argentinian league titles, while a survey conducted by the government suggested that 41.5 per cent of the fans in the country support Boca with 31.8 per cent for River.

Numbers mean little nowadays, though, and in recent years Argentina has seen such unlikely champions as Banfield and Arsenal de Sarandí. While Vélez Sarsfield and Newell's Old Boys have emerged as consistent new powers, the big two were struggling to qualify for the Copa Libertadores and even falling to the second tier.

In mitigation the traditional "big two" would point to the effect of the general financial problems in Argentinian football which have caused them to sell players to European clubs at an increasingly young age, which in turn prevents them from building a settled squad.

In the past River and Boca represented a middle step in a playing career, where emerging footballers could enjoy some years of success before crossing the ocean; now, as as soon as youngsters stand out, they board in a plane to Europe. Furthermore, Mexican and Brazilian teams currently tend to have more stable finances and attract both average Argentinian players and rising stars from around South America who in the old days would have played in Argentina.

The last Superclásico was a rather boring 1-0 victory for Boca at River's ground on October 6. Boca have still never been relegated – River went down for one season in 2011 – but neither the return of their legendary Copa Libertadores-winning manager Carlos Bianchi nor players such as Juan Román Riquelme and Fernando Gago have been able to improve performances.

River Plate, a year after their return to the elite, are 11 points behind leaders Newell's. Boca Juniors are slightly better but with little chance to qualify for the 2014 Libertadores. Even with an immediate return to both clubs' former dominance unlikely, fans will surely keep adding pressure after such dull campaigns – it's the price you pay for being big. Antonio Mateo

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