Over three years (six championships), the two clubs out of the twenty members who have the worst points average are automatically relegated. The next two worst, 17th and 18th in the collated table, are pitted against the third and fourth best, on average, from Nacional B in a two-legged playoff. River Plate's destiny was to be decided against Belgrano. The side from Córdoba entered the playoff with just one defeat in 16, compared to River Plate's winless sequence of seven. The first leg was played out in front of a packed Estadio Gigante de Alberdi, where the fans created an intimidating atmosphere to greet their illustrious opposition. This should have been enough to wake River Plate's players to the reality of the dangerous scenario of being responsible for the club's first relegation in its history.
The situation was clear. Anything but a winning margin of two goals would see the club plummet into the abyss. Two crucial goals would be enough as in the event of a tie on aggregate, River Plate would be saved by the tie-breaking advantage held by all Primera División clubs. Daniel Passarella, President of River PlateStu Forster/Getty ImagesThe problem was, and always has been, where do the goals come from for River Plate? The Buenos Aires club cannot have been optimistic of turning its fortunes around. After all, a two goal margin of victory had only happened twice in the past two championships: once in this year's Clausura, going 2-0 against Huracán, and the time before in 2010's Apertura, going 4-1 away to Lanús.
Comical defending, another trait in this inept side, gifted Belgrano an equalizer as Guillermo Farré clinically finished to start the celebrations for the away fans and the tears for the home crowd. There was more, though. Pavone spurned a penalty in to the grateful arms of the superb Juan Carlos Olave. The match was then effectively suspended, but the result stands, it would seem. The referee ended proceedings on the 88th minute due to the protests from the crowd. These foolish fans had taken away any slim chance River Plate had of survival.
Riots in Buenos Aires After River Plate Loses Relegation Playoff to BelgranoJulian Finney/Getty ImagesThe great River Plate was relegated Sunday evening on a cold day in Buenos Aires, marking the end of an era. The most successful club domestically in Argentine football, with 33 league championships, has been ever-present in the country's Primera División since it was founded in 1901, until now. The Primera División operates from August to June of the next year, divided into two separate championships known as the Apertura (Opening) and the Clausura (Closing). This is a Latin American footballing phenomenon that divides up the calendar year. Relegation to and promotion from the second tier's Primera Nacional B is determined on an averaging system.
When you consider those two results came over a period of 45 matches (including Sunday's game) since May 2010, you begin to understand the appalling plight that River Plate has been on for a long time. Two managers have led the club over this period, Ángel Cappa and Juan José López. Responsibility should not lie solely with the two much maligned managers and their abject players, but the iconic president Daniel Passarella who has overseen this turbulent time and failed to enforce positive change.
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesThey failed to heed this warning as the Piratas shocked Los Millonarios 2-0 with goals from Cesar Mansanelli and Cesar Pereyra. After the second goal, crazy scenes unraveled. River Plate was in the midst of one of its more promising attacks when the unthinkable happened, or at least, it should be unthinkable, but it has become a common occurrence over the years in Argentina. River Plate's fans (if you can call them that) halted action with supposedly the best solution they could conjure up to alter their club's pathetic performance—they invaded the pitch. Some had cut through the metal fence that stood between them and the pitch; others had just climbed over it.
Belgrano Cordoba x River Plate 05/02/2023 Primera Division
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They remonstrated in the faces of some of the players, pushing and shoving them, as if they had not been trying all along and this would suddenly prompt them in to playing well. It did little to change the pattern of play. River Plate huffed and puffed and Belgrano lurked dangerously, ready to pounce on the counter attack with what surely would have been a fatal third goal. It finished 2-0 and all that lied between River Plate and its first relegation ever was 90 minutes.
Whether that be by managerial appointments, player recruitment (or lack of). He could even have made a rallying cry to the players, as he did in the days before Sunday's game. Sorry Daniel, but it is all too little, too late. River Plate's fans will despair at the cowardice Passarella has shown during his tenure in failing to react sooner. After all, this is a legend who captained the national side to World Cup glory in 1978. Sunday's game was the same old story for River Plate. The fans had the naivety to think that a player they have often castigated and not supported consistently, Mariano Pavone, could save them, when he scored the first goal to give River Plate the lead.
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