The 2014 Argentine Torneo Final championship will no doubt be remembered for the return to winning ways of domestic giants River Plate FC, who finally reclaimed their title five years on from their last success, and only three years removed from their shock relegation.
Ramon Diaz’s side spurred on by a historic victory over arch-rivals CA Boca Juniors away at the legendary La Bombonera stadium, and achieved an impressive home record, lifting the title on the final day with an emphatic 5-0 triumph.
With the likes of Manuel Lanzini, Christian Ledesma, Fernando Cavenaghi & Colombian international striker Teofilio Guitierrez on their side, River now seem to be on the verge of a return to the top of not only the domestic scene, but a string continental contender also.The 2014 championship will also be recalled as that of the renaissance of the other half of Argentina’s “Big two”: CA Boca Juniors,led by legendary coach Carlos Bianchi, who produced an impressive late run to take second place in the closing stage. And with a raftof exciting youngsters coming through, Boca and the talismanic club captain Juan Roman Riquelme look set to make a sustained push in the next season.
On the relegation front, despite a remarkable turnaround by Colon De Santa Fe, it ultimately took a 93rd minute for the Santa Fe side to avoid direct relegation. They now face Atletico Rafaela in a playoff to decide who will be competing in next season’s championship.
However, with the introduction by the Argentine FA (AFA) of a new 30-team tournament on the horizon, the relegated side may well find themselves back in the top-flight sooner than anticipated.
The championship expansion, though, poses several important questions such as: What will domestic football have in store for the so called bigger teams? Will the new era bring in European-like dominance of the more prestigious teams, who will have more time to recover from any potential slip ups? Or will the underdogs continue to upset the status-quo, and challenge for domestic glory?
Whatever the case, the Torneo Final Best XI players below, will surely play a big part:
– Who’s who in the Torneo Final Best XI:
GK | Geronimo Rulli | Club: Estudiantes De La Plata
Young goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli has continued his outstanding progression in this season’s Torneo Final. The impressive Estudiantes De La Plata shot-stopper was an integral part of his teams excellent defensive record, the best in the 2014 closing stage campaign.
His age, continued development, exceptional attributes and consistency, allied to the fact that (as a goalkeeper) he is only a tender 21 years of age, mean that Rulli would be my, and many pundits’ 2014 Torneo Final Young Player Of The Season.
DEF | Eder Alavarez Balanta | Club: River Plate
River Plate’s exceptional young Colombian defender Eder Alavarez Balanta further enhanced his growing reputation within the game with a string of eye-catching performances in the 2014 Torneo Final.
The tall, powerful centre-back is reminiscent of a young Lilian Thuram. He has impressed both in defence, and bringing the ball out from the back for Ramon Diaz’s River, narrowly edging out his equally impressive defensive partner Jonathan Maidana.
Balanta’s performances, versatility, and impressive attributes all led to strong reported interest from Spanish giants FC Barcelona, and a possible summer transfer to the Spanish La Liga.
DEF | Matias Landa | Club: Colon De Santa Fe
Experienced defender Matias Landa was at the heart of a remarkable turnaround with his side Colon De Santa Fe in this seasons closing championship.
Landa, a mainstay in a stingy Colon defensive setup, has seen his team go from one of the worse teams in Argentina in its opening tournament, to remarkable turnaround in its close, managing to force an unlikely relegation playoff. And his defensive partners being quite possibly the key component to Colon’s reversal, and essential if his club are to maintain their top flight condition.
DEF | Lucas Licht | Club: Gimnasia Y Esgrima La Plata FC
Veteran left back Lucas Licht, has, much like his club Gimnasia Y Esgrima De La Plata, enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in this seasons Torneo Final.
The accomplished left-back has been a vital part of high-flying Gimnasia’s ultimately unsuccessful, yet equally merit-worthy title tilt, contributing not only some strong defensive performances, but some key, and spectacular goals too.
MID | Gaston Gil Romero | Club: Estudiantes De La Plata
Gaston Gil Romero has this term once again been one of the best midfielders in Argentina’s domestic championship.
The tireless, combative young Estudiantes De La Plata central midfielder, at the tender age of only 20, has proven himself as a vital figure within his team. So much so that the youngster has gone on to captain his side in the second half of 2014 replacing Argentine football and Estudiantes club legend Juan Sebastian Veron.
MID | Maxi Meza | Club: Gimnasia Y Esgrima La Plata FC
Gimnasia Y Esgrima La Plata were in no doubt the tournament’s surprise package, and in large part their attacking aspirations where held together by their excellent young attacking midfielder Maxi Meza.
The creative force behind their title push, Meza showed a penchant for both crucial, yet equally spectacular goals. His performances this season suggest that Maxi Meza is very much one to look out for in the near future.
MID | Carlos Carbonero | River Plate
If there was an official award for the Revelation Of the 2014 Torneo Final season, then it would no doubt go to River Plate’s Colombian Midfielder Carlos Carbonero.
The athletic, all action midfielder had previously enjoyed a somewhat unremarkable time in Argentina, both in his loan spell with Estudiantes De La Plata, and subsequent loan at Arsenal De Sarandi. However, this season, the barrel chested Colombia and River midfielder has pushed on to take up an integral plate within his clubs midfield.
His notable performances, and eye for key goals arriving late from midfield, have prompted a reported interest from La Liga side Espanyol De Barcelona. And although Carbonero will surprisingly not feature at this summer’s World Cup, in theory that would not affect the distinct possibility that this may well be his last involvement in the Argentine domestic game.
MID | Luciano Acosta | Club: CA Boca Juniors
Luciano Acosta’s exceptional season is almost as remarkable as his meteoric rise in to the Boca Juniors first team.
Whereas his club’s form has been somewhat erratic, only reaching top gear in the later part of the campaign, the diminutive Acosta – who only made his debut at the beginning of the Torneo Final – has been consistently spectacular throughout. His goals and electrifying play have established the teen as the outstanding talent from a Boca Juniors academy that is at present producing some of the most exciting talent in the nation.
FWD | Mauro Zarate | Club: Velez Sarsfield
Former S.S. Lazio FC and Birmingham City loanee Mauro Zarate has not only been the 2014 Torneo Final’s top goal-scorer with 13 goals (also scoring the most goals across the entire season, with 18 strikes to his name), but has also been one of the championship’s top assists contributor as well.
The Velez Sarsfield forward, finding the time to top both charts even whilst being immersed in his side’s rotation policy so as to keep players fresh for both domestic and Toyota Libertadores Cup duties.
Zarate has quite simply been exceptional this season, and is my pick for Player of The Season. His outstanding play, and the range and depth of his influence on both his club, and the domestic competition alike could be somewhat akin to that of Luis Suarez’s contribution this season to the Premier League.
FWD | Guido Carillo | Club: Estudiantes De La Plata
Sometimes, for forwards, things can just “click”, and suddenly everything they touch turns into goals. This has very much been the case for Estudiantes De La Plata’s Guido Carillo in the 2014 closing championship.
The young forward’s previous goals output prior to this campaign, had been modest at best. However, this season has seen the young Estudiantes’ marksman go on to establish himself as a lethal penalty box predator.
Carrillo has helped himself to a highly credible, and career high 9 goals in less than 18 outings this campaign, second top scorer for the championship itself.
FWD | José Adolfo Valencia | Club: Olimpo Bahia Blanca
If there was a player to challenge River’s Claudio Carbonero for this season’s revelation, it would be his countryman José Adolfo Valencia.
Valencia, son of legendary former Colombia forward Adolfo “El Tren” Valencia, has caught the eye at Olimpo Bahia Blanca since arriving on loan from American MLS side Portland Timbers.
The young frontman, arriving in Argentina as a very much unknown entity, went on to impress for the modest Bahia side. “Trencito” as Valencia is also known, has this term established himself as very much one to watch for the future, both at club and international level.
With other highly deserving candidates such as Teo Guttierez, Manuel Lanzini & Jonathan Maidaina (River) Emmanuel Gigliotti (Boca Juniors) Rodrigo De Paul (Racing Club) and Mariano Echeverría (Arsenal De Sarandi) narrowly missing out, next season’s championship could well be the most entertaining for some time!