By DAVID MOSSE
The news just keeps getting worse for River Plate, which lost 2-0 to Belgrano on Wednesday night in the first leg of their relegation playoff and might be forced to play the second leg in an empty stadium after its fans stormed the pitch in Cordoba. Los Millonarios are winless in eight games and need a massive comeback on Sunday to avoid a humiliating fate.
Cesar Mansanelli opened the scoring from the penalty spot midway through the first half, and Cesar Pereyra doubled the lead soon after the intermission. Not surprisingly, River manager Juan Jose Lopez fielded an ultra-defensive lineup in the hopes of coming away with a draw, and Erik Lamela suffered from a lack of support.
The match was interrupted for 20 minutes in the second half when a number of River Plate supporters invaded the pitch (catch the footage here) to attack certain players like Adalberto Roma, who will miss the second leg due to suspension. Defender Paulo Ferrari and influential midfielder Matias Almeyda will also be unavailable on Sunday for the same reason.
Los Millonarios are the winningest club in Argentina with 33 domestic titles and have never been relegated in 110 years. Lopez will have no choice but to field an attack-minded lineup, and it remains to be seen whether fans will be allowed inside the Monumental with speculation rampant that River Plate could be punished.
Here's a look ahead to the other important matches in South America this weekend:
San Martin vs. Gimnasia (La Plata), Sunday, 6 p.m.
Gimnasia (La Plata) took a big step towards remaining in the first division by knocking off Huracan, 2-0, in La Bombonera on Wednesday night. The victory sends El Lobo into a two-legged playoff with San Martin, with the first match set to take place in San Juan, while the return leg is scheduled for the following Thursday in La Plata.
Lucas Castro broke the deadlock after 15 minutes against Huracan, which quickly went down to nine men following the dismissals of Dario Soplan and Javier Campora. Not surprisingly, Gimnasia dominated from start to finish, and Claudio Graf eventually doubled the advantage. El Lobo squandered many chances throughout the game.
Flamengo vs. Atletico Mineiro, Saturday, 5:30 p.m., GolTV
Ronaldinho is headed in the wrong direction at Flamengo. The former World Player of the Year turned in another lackluster performance last week in a scoreless draw with Botafogo and has come under fire for his partying ways in Rio de Janeiro. Wanderley Luxemburgo’s side is winless in four games and beginning to slide down the table.
Flamengo needs a victory on Saturday against Atletico Mineiro to get back on track, and the onus is on both Ronaldinho and Thiago Neves to perform. Neves has struggled since returning from international duty last month. Atletico is currently fifth in the table and coming off a spirited 2-2 draw with Atletico Goianiense last week.
Corinthians vs. Sao Paulo, Sunday, 3 p.m.
Leaders Sao Paulo face their most difficult test of the season so far in the form of a showdown with archrivals Corinthians. Paulo Cesar Carpegiani’s side made it five wins in as many games last week with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Ceara, but Carpegiani must overcome the absence of Lucas, who has been in sensational form.
Lucas found the back of the net for the third time this season against Ceara, but has left to represent Brazil in the Copa America. Sao Paulo still boasts plenty of attacking talent with Dagoberto enjoying the best form of his career and Marlos emerging as a major threat down the left side.
Internacional vs. Figueirense, Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Paulo Roberto Falcao doesn’t believe his job is on the line on Sunday when Internacional takes on Figueirense, but Falcao has been a bitter disappointment since taking over the club he represented as a player in the 1970s. The latest setback came in the form of a 1-1 draw with Coritiba last week, and Inter is 11th in the table.
Figueirense, meanwhile, continues to be a pleasant surprise after knocking off Atletico Paranaense last week to move up to fourth in the table. Falcao must decide on the best way to utilize attacking midfielders Andres D’Alessandro and Oscar, who will be entrusted with providing the service for talented striker Leandro Damiao.
Can you see River Plate being relegated? What do you see happening in Argentina's other relegation battle? How will the league race in Brazil shake out?
Share your thoughts below.
Surreal, truly surreal.
I think they’re getting relegated.
Belgrano will get very little sleep in BA Saturday night. No tears tears here for the
Millinarios. Cordoba will be one huge party with a victory Sunday.
Absolutely bananas for River! Boca vs River is one of the biggest rivalries in sports and watching them fall to relegation soon is disturbing para el Futbol Argentino.