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27 February 2024

Riquelme's Boca braced to defend Argentine title

By Reuters

Argentina champions Boca Juniors host Olimpo on Friday for the resumption of a championship their playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme considers tougher than the European leagues. 

"It's tougher here than in Europe, defenders are smart, they don't let you move," said Boca captain Riquelme, who has had spells in Spain's La Liga with Barcelona and Villarreal. 

The Argentina 2006 World Cup midfielder defended Boca's pragmatic, counter-attacking style which has been criticised in local media for lacking sparkle despite their runaway victory in the Apertura championship in the first half of the season.   

"Boca are the best in Argentina, it's not Velez (Sarsfield) nor Lanus, and for six months we'll carry on being the best," he told Fox Sports in an interview on Wednesday before the start of the Clausura championship.  

Boca coach Julio Cesar Falcioni, who had a scare in midweek when his team needed penalties to overcome Santamarina of the sixth tier after a 1-1 draw in the Copa Argentina round of 32, also defended his tactics. 

"Champions must be respected and valued... We won the title by 12 points (from the nearest challengers)," he told ESPN. 

Falcioni built his championship team from the back with a defence who conceded a mere six goals in their 19 Apertura matches and, with Riquelme back to full fitness after an injury- plagued 2011, they are Clausura favourites. 

Velez, Clausura champions last June and Argentina's shrewdest operators in the transfer market, are Boca's chief challengers while Racing Club could be a good outside bet if they gel under former Argentina coach Alfio Basile.   


Basile appears to have settled dressing room troubles caused mainly by wayward Colombia striker Teofilo Gutierrez which affected their Apertura campaign under Diego Simeone, who departed for Atletico Madrid in the mid-season recess. 

Estudiantes, Apertura winners in December 2010, should be a force again under captain Juan Sebastian Veron, who has postponed his retirement until June after a disappointing first half of the season in which he struggled with angle trouble. 

Relegation-threatened San Lorenzo, away to Lanus on Friday, may have to wait to give newly signed Uruguayan striker Carlos Bueno his debut. Argentinos Juniors have asked for his move from Mexico's Queretaro to be blocked while the Saints still owe them money from the June transfer of Paraguay World Cup midfielder Nestor Ortigoza. 

Estudiantes are at home to Newell's Old Boys, now under former Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino, on Saturday. Velez host Godoy Cruz and Racing entertain Tigre on Sunday. 

The biggest move in the transfer window belonged to the Primera B Nacional, where Boca's relegated arch-rivals River Plate signed former France striker David Trezeguet. 

Argentina's second tier has one 38-match season-long championship which second-placed River have lit up with their attacking football but found very tough as all their rivals play them as if it was the match of their lives.