South America review: Racing Club face a challenge in Argentina

(Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)
(Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images) /

While the season opened in Chile and Uruguay, a new challenger emerged in Argentina. Read all about this week’s soccer news from South America.

New seasons are budding across South America, with the Apertura campaigns commencing in both Chile and Uruguay this past weekend. Hope springs eternal for clubs and their fans across both countries, as they enter a new year with dreams of competing for trophies.

But by now some domestic leagues throughout South America are also deep in the heart of their seasons already. For countries that started their new seasons in January and earlier in February, we are already starting to see a pattern of contenders and pretenders emerge in the hunt for their nation’s spoils.

This week’s review of soccer across South America dives into stories of both stripes. First we will take a look at the action that emerged on the first weekend of the new Chilean and Uruguayan seasons before diving into a look at the challenger to Racing Club’s long run atop the Superliga table in Argentina.

Antofagasta build early momentum in Chile

Located more than 1000 miles up the coast from Santiago de Chile, Antofagasta is a coastal port city at the heart of the mining regions whose historic significance dates back centuries. While the beautiful game is as popular in the city as anywhere else across a soccer-mad continent, though, they have had little to celebrate among the most notable clubs in the city.

The sole representative of Antofagasta in the top flight of Chilean soccer is the eponymous C.D. Antofagasta. Formed from the merger of two smaller clubs in 1966, Antofagasta have been a solid second-division club for much of their existence. In recent years, they have been a fixture in the Primera Division of the pyramid, hovering mostly just outside the drop zone in the three-year aggregate system used for relegation.

Last year Antofagasta vaulted all the way up to fourth place in the final table and earned a spot in the Copa Sudamericana. With their opening match of Copa Sudamericana qualification coming up nine days after the start of the domestic campaign, Antofagasta kicked off the new year with an emphatic win. A 3-0 victory, with a pair of penalty conversions by Felipe Flores and Tobias Figueroa and a third goal from Adrian Balboa in second-half stoppage time, they shut out Audax Italiano in style.

Colo-Colo also bagged three goals, but a 14th-minute equalizer by Union Espanola’s Mauro Andres Caballero eliminated the chance of clean sheet early in the first half. That goal put the 32-time Primera champions just behind Antofagasta on goal differential. After their 2-0 win over Palestino, Union La Calera sits just behind Colo-Colo level on goal differential but a goal behind on total goals.

Things can and will shift over the next few months, but fans in the northern hub on the coast have reason to celebrate the early hope of a run to the city’s first-ever Primera championship.

The dueling Cerros top the table after one weekend in Uruguay

After a one-week delay to the start of the season, Uruguay kicked off its Primera campaign with a full slate of matches on Saturday and Sunday. Once the dust settled on the opening matchday of the Apertura, a pair of Cerros topped the table after two-goal victories.

Cerro Largo, the recently promoted provincial club based in the northeastern city of Melo that won the Segunda Division last season, took down Danubio 2-0 after a Sebastian Sosa brace in the first half. After Gonzalo Montes Calderini saw red in the first 20 minutes of the second half, all Cerro Largo had to do was sit back and maintain their clean sheet.

Later on Sunday, Montevideo-based Cerro took down Racing Club de Montevideo in the local derby. The two clubs were gridlocked after trading penalties on either side of halftime, but a 90th-minute winner from Diego Casas and a 94th-minute insurance goal from Federico Puente ensured that Cerro would walk away with all three points.

With the win, the two clubs became the only ones in Uruguay with three points and a pair of goals in the bank. Progreso took down Rampla Juniors in a wild 4-3 thriller, putting themselves behind the Cerros with the lead in total goals in the Primera table.

Defensa y Justicia now level with Racing Club in Argentina

For much of the Superliga season in Argentina, Racing Club de Avellaneda have been the clear front-runner for the crown. But after a recent swoon where the club dropped seven out of a possible 21 points in their last seven matches, things have tightened up at the top of the table in Argentina.

Defensa y Justicia took full advantage of the opening in the past few months, winning six straight in Superliga play and going unbeaten since a May 5 loss to Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario last season. With a Manuel Guanini own goal in the 15th minute of their most recent match, Defensa y Justicia kept pace with the leaders from Avellaneda.

Though third-place Boca Juniors have a match in hand on the two leaders, they also sit 10 points behind Racing and Defensa y Justicia in the Superliga table. Atletico Tucuman, the club that looked like Racing’s biggest challenger through the first few months of the season, have now fallen 13 points behind with a match in hand. They are level on points with Huracan, who have played the same number of matches as the two clubs at the top.

Next. The Longest Penalty in the World. dark

Next weekend both leaders will be locked into tough matches. Racing Club head just a few hundred feet down the road from El Cilindro to face Avellaneda rival Independiente at La Doble Visera. Defensa y Justicia, meanwhile, have a duel at home against Boca Juniors.

If Boca can take down their hosts in Florencio Varela on Sunday, they will pull within seven points and still hold their match in hand on the two leaders. And if Independiente, currently sitting in eighth in the Superliga standings, can take down Racing things will really start to get interesting in the final month and a half of the season.