Far from a SuperClasico, struggling Boca & River face-off in the Buenos Aires derby

Boca Juniors vs River Plate, Clausura, March 25, 2010

Boca Juniors 2.13; Draw 3.07; River Plate 3.17

The moniker labelling this match as the SuperClasico has rarely felt so out of place.

For several seasons now, the plight of Argentina’s two great football institutions has got worse and worse. Nowadays few would categorise either Boca or River as the top clubs in Argentina, let alone the continent at large, and the meeting of the two on Thursday night is more about pride and rebuilding self-esteem rather than having any impact on the Clausura league at large.

Lying in 18th place in the 20-team division, with just one win in their nine matches this term, Boca are a club in big trouble both on and off the pitch.

Last season was a complete wash-out, with Boca caught nosediving in the second half of the season which saw the blue and gold’s miss out on a place in this season’s Copa Libertadores. That on-the-field disappointment resulted in off-the-field sackings, with coach Alfio Basile and general manager Carlos Bianchi given their marching orders, while experienced goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri was the biggest casualty to be ferried out the club on the playing side.

Down on their luck, Boca plumped for rookie head coach Abel Alves to take over at the helm, but so-far that experiment appears to be failing big-time. While they can still call upon the talents of the mercurial Juan Roman Riquelme as well as other players of the calibre of Martin Palermo (just one goal away from being Boca’s all-time leading scorer) and Nicolas Gaitan, the fact remains that Boca have made their worst-ever start to a league campaign in their club’s long history, and the knives and out and being sharpened for poor Alves.

While Boca are reeling, River barely have a moment to enjoy the despair of their hated Buenos Aires rivals as they too have far too many problems of their own to deal with.

River also missed out on qualification to the Copa Libertadores after a miserable season last term, and it was hoped that the election of club legend Daniel Passarella as president would signal brighter times ahead for los Millonarios. Sadly, La Banda fans are still waiting for the good times to roll around.

River are fairing slightly better than Boca this season, currently occupying mid-table irrelevance in 12th spot. With three wins, three draws and three defeats in their opening nine games of the season, as well as having scored eight and conceded eight, the table reads as if River have flat-lined into mediocrity.

Off-the-field, though, River take on the persona of a classic South American tella novella. The off season was spoiled by River’s talented midfielder Diego Buonanotte crashing into a tree in a car accident in which three of his friends were killed. With Buonanotte still recovering from that trauma now, River have since been hit by further problems when striker Ariel Ortega recently suffered a relapse in his battle against alcoholism. All of which leave coach Leonardo Astrada fearing for his job on a game by game basis.

There are though a few good omens for River heading into the derby. Firstly, Los Millonarios took the spoils in the two pre-season friendlies between the sides, though that will count for little when the old foes face off with valuable league points at stake. More importantly, River have been in decent form of late picking up wins against San Lorenzo and Huracan in two of their last three games – form which Boca would crave for at the minute.

On the field, River’s talisman will be 34-year-old legend Marcelo Gallardo, who is set to make his 300th appearance in the red and white jersey in the derby. This SuperClasico could well be the final swansong for the free-kick specialist, and Gallardo will be hoping to keep up his record of scoring in the last two league meetings between the great enemies.

Yet River know that they have an awful recent record when they head to the Bombonera on Thursday night. Not since 2004 have River beaten Boca on their home turf, and their is little reason to believe that this match should be any different.

This match was supposed to have been played last weekend, only for the heavens to open in biblical fashion which forced the match to be abandoned only minutes after the kick-off. Such freak weather appears to be laced with poetic irony, with the gods seemingly unable to allow these two former giants to slug it out in their current status as mere shadows of their former selves.

With such doom and gloom encompassing the match, it would be fitting for a goalless draw to be played out which would offer little help to either side.

101gg predicts: Boca Juniors 1 – River Plate 1

Boca Juniors 2.13; Draw 3.07; River Plate 3.17

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