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Argentina defies coronavirus to keep football rolling

first_imgIn a nation famed for the fervour and passion of its fans, arguably even more than for the quality of its domestic game, this past weekend was a culture shock for Argentine football. Loading… The Copa Superliga and lower league fixtures went ahead, but behind closed doors. Instead of thudding drums, ear-splitting chants and the explosive noise of firecrackers, deathly silence accompanied the weekend’s action due to precautions set in place for coronavirus. That is, of course, when the teams concerned managed to enter the stadium in the first place. On Saturday referee German Delfino and the Atletico Tucuman kitmen arrived at River Plate’s Monumental home only to find the gates securely locked, shutters down and the venue empty. The Millonarios had already warned that they would not fulfil their fixture, but Atletico nevertheless went through the motions of preparing for a game that was not going ahead, with the squad even congregating in the team hotel ready to leave until they were informed by Superliga their presence would not be needed. “The club considers that competing would imply severe risks for the health of the senior squad and everyone involved in an official match,” River wrote in a statement released the previous day to justify their no-show. “The fact that one of our players has shown symptoms compatible with Covid-19 confirms the possible risks and forces us to be aware of the consequences, even if the diagnosis is unconfirmed and [affected reserve player] Thomas Gutierrez is recovering well.” River Atletico Tucuman Copa Superliga Fecha 1 Suspenssion With professional football in Europe and the United States all but paralysed, Argentina is one of the few major footballing nations which persists in keeping the game going. Aided by its distance from China and the climate – Southern Hemisphere nations enjoying their summer months have generally suffered fewer cases as the heat at least partially slows community-acquired infections – it has to date confirmed just over 50 cases, the vast majority ‘imported’ from Europe, and two deaths. Nevertheless, with the example of Italy in particular hanging heavy over its head the government is keen to act firmly. Last week flights to and from Europe were banned and mandatory quarantine ordered for any person entering the country from an affected region, while on Sunday primary and secondary school classes were suspended for the rest of March. Measures have also been taken against hoarding and over-charging on essential products such as hand sanitiser, a sensitive issue in a country where inflation was already running at over 50 per cent annually. CONMEBOL also acted in bringing the Copa Libertadores to a halt, the competition signing off with customary flair on Thursday with a Gremio-Internacional derby that finished goalless and with eight red cards following a chaotic on-pitch brawl. In Argentina, however, the ball keeps rolling.center_img As of Monday River’s clash was the only top-flight game to be suspended due to the virus: rivals Boca Juniors romped to a 4-1 win over Godoy Cruz, while San Lorenzo saw Paraguay international Oscar Romero score from his own half in a 3-1 victory over relegation-threatened Patronato. Racing Club and Aldosivi played out a seven-goal thriller that ended 4-3 to the Avellaneda side. Publicly most players and officials connected with Superliga have supported River’s stance, even inveterate Millo-baiter Diego Maradona, but not one team has followed their example and refused to kick off. Former Newcastle United defender Fabricio Coloccini, now at San Lorenzo, is one such dissenter. “I don’t think we should have played, but it is just my opinion,” he told reporters after the Patronato clash. “We all thought it shouldn’t have been played but there are people above us who are in charge and we had to comply.” Such insistence on maintaining the sport in operation seems positively quixotic, especially when one considers that the Superliga season ended, with impeccable timing, the week before pandemic was announced by the WHO with Boca’s gripping victory at the expense of their arch-rivals. This Copa Superliga is merely an addendum to the season, a way for teams to fill up their calendar. But as invariably occurs in Argentina, political motivations appear to be winning over common sense. Coronavirus landed in the country just as football, once more, was tearing itself apart. Since the start of 2020 the Argentine FA and Superliga, in charge of the top division, have been at loggerheads, and given the power concentrated inside the late Julio Grondona’s old fortress on Buenos Aires’ Viamonte street there was only likely to be one winner. Superliga, which came into being just three years ago, lost its president as recently as Tuesday when Mariano Elizondo and vice Jorge Brito resigned in the midst of almost unanimous rebellion from member clubs in line with the AFA. Into the breach stepped Marcelo Tinelli, whom you may remember as one of the AFA presidential candidates during the infamous post-Grondona election of 2014, when 75 voters contrived to cast 38 ballots for each hopeful. In a surreal twist Tinelli, who was one of the men charged with creating Superliga, is now tasked with winding it down. The San Lorenzo president pushed for the league to be suspended at the start of the year due to its clash with pre-Olympic qualifying; now amid a pandemic, he launched a fierce criticism of River for failing to fulfil their fixture. “They broke away from a general context of caution and provoked huge alarm in society,” a Superliga statement bearing his signature claimed, while promising there would be “sanctions” to punish the lockout. The new Superliga chief will continue in the same role for 2020-21 when the top flight is reorganised into a Liga Profesional and is keen to see these final months proceed as scheduled. President of Argentina Alberto Fernandez, while closing down the borders and schools and announcing to the nation he would hunt down a violent quarantine violator, is also happy to see the ball rolling. “If football is played behind closed doors I’ve got no problem,” he told Sunday’s press conference. “Right now I would love for games to be screened free on television, so that Argentines who have to stay at home can enjoy themselves.” Read Also:Juve defender ‘doing well’ after coronavirus diagnosis Despite that official backing the players might yet get their way, as a series of meetings late on Monday pushed the Copa Superliga closer to suspension, although nothing was confirmed either by the clubs or Argentine Players’ Union chief Sergio Marchi. The ball was still rolling that evening with clashes in Lanus and Rosario and, if football is eventually forced to shut down, it will not have been for lack of trying from those in charge as they left no stone unturned in their bid to keep the action going. FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmail分享 last_img

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