Last season’s bottom placed club River Plate are now mathematically out of the title race and the other traditional superpower Boca Juniors are a further eight points down the league.
With three teams left in the title race the swell of support in Argentina now stands behind Angel Cappa’s second place Huracán who have brushed aside rivals this season with a style of football which is very easy on the eye.
While many Argentine teams in recent years have resorted to a more direct, physical and wholly European approach to the game Cappa’s side have entertained crowds with their tradition Argentine toque-toque style of play.
Toque-toque translates as touch-touch and for an example on the global stage think of Esteban Cambiasso latching on to Hernan Crespo’s backheel after a move involving 24 passes to put Argentina 2-0 up against Serbia & Montenegro at the 2006 World Cup.
Eight players touched the ball in the move that led up to the goal before slicing open the opposition defence and it is in this image that the purist Cappa has moulded his Huracán side.
Many tipped Huracán’s title challenge to run of fizz sooner or later but deep into the business end of the season Cappa’s side are primed to bring the league title home to Parque Patricios.
Last weekend’s clasico against San Lorenzo was moved to Boca Juniors’s La Bombonera stadium for security reasons after a Huracán fan was killed after the corresponding fixture last season. Rodrigo Silvera, 27, was shot dead waiting for a takeaway pizza in November by San Lorenzo’s barra brava and the game’s toxic reputation continues to grow in Buenos Aires.
On the pitch this season the encounter turned out to be a rather drab affair as Huracán’s long-serving centre-back Pablo Goltz nodded home the game’s only goal from a corner.
With the spotlight shining on his team Cappa was clearly disappointed with his side’s showing.
“It was one of the worst games we've played,” said Cappa. “If we'd played at 30 or 40 percent of our capabilities, it would have been a simple second half.”
This weekend Cappa’s men entertain Arsenal at home and a win will put them top for at least two hours as Vélez Sársfield against Lanús kicks off after the Huracán game.
As long as Huracán pick up three points this weekend they will take their title challenge to the last day and a possible winner takes all game away to Vélez Sársfield.
Even if the overall quality on the Argentine domestic scene has been poor in recent years tight finishes to the season are becoming the norm.
In the Apertura six months ago you couldn’t squeeze a blue Rizla paper between Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo and Tigres going into the final game.
The three teams were locked on 36 points with Lanus only a further two behind meaning anyone of four teams could take the title on the last day of the season.
As it turned out Boca Juniors, San Lorenzo and Tigres all picked up a win to take their final tallies to 39 points.
With goal difference discounted as a method to separate the teams the authorities took the unprecedented step of holding a end of season three-way playoff.
Ironically enough Boca Juniors won the playoff on goal difference after all three teams won one and lost one of their round robin games.
The fluidity of Cappa’s team is borne out in the fact that despite Huracán being the league’s top scorers the club do not have a single player in double figures for the season. Instead they have four players who have five or more and a further 13 players who have chipped in with goals during the course of the season.
In discovering what makes Angel Cappa such a breath of fresh air it is important to take a look at his schooling. Huracán’s head honcho served two important apprenticeships under César Menotti and Jorge Valdano.
The chain-smoking Menotti led Argentina to World Cup triumph on home soil in 1978 and Cappa took up the assistant post with him at Boca Juniors before following him to Atletico Madrid as well as working as a trainer with the national team.
Menotti’s attacking style first bore fruit at Huracán and after wowing crowds for three years and scooping the Metropolitano in 1973 he served as national coach for nine years, grooming Diego Maradona along the way.
After working with El Flaco Cappa joined up with Jorge Valdano first at Tenerife and then at Real Madrid where they won the 1994/95 La Liga and put the wheels in motion for a period of success which the club are still trying to recreate now.
Valdano, a goalscorer in Argentina’s 1986 World Cup win, is known as El Filósofo and El Poeta for his purist views on how the game should be played. Recognized as a true philosopher of the game he has penned the influential books Sueños de fútbol and Cuentos de fútbol.
The former Real Madrid manager and latterly sporting director is known for his outspoken views such as likening a stifling Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool to watching ‘shit hanging from a stick.’
It seems Cappa shares his former bosses’ views of the turgid fare so often offered up when teams packed with skilful players decide to shut up shop.
After an undistinguished playing career Cappa himself has already enjoyed a colourful management career in his own right. He has taken charge of teams with varied success in Peru, Mexico, Spain, South Africa as well as his native Argentina.
With a patchy CV there were some grumblings from the Huracán faithful when their president Carlos Babington hired the coach last year.
Many wondered if Cappa, already into his 60s and known for his hardcore old school values, could coax a team with an average age of 23 to any degree of success.
What followed has exceed even the most romantic visions of those who hold Huracán or even the tradition values of Argentine football in high esteem.
Although everyone in Cappa’s side have played their part two names have stood out above the rest, striker Matías De Federico and midfielder Javier Pastore.
De Federico rewarded national coach Diego Maradona for his call up to for the B international against Panama by bagging a goal. The 20-year-old forward has drawn comparisons with Lionel Messi with his squat stature, ability with ball at his feet and precise left peg.
Javier Pastore is Huracán’s leading marksman with nine goals from midfield and dazzling performances against River Plate and Rosario Central last month which saw him grab a brace in both games have driven the European transfer mill into overdrive.
What makes the player such an attractive proposal is that he will be a free agent when his contract runs out at the end of the season. The 19-year-old is believed to have turned down £8.8m to join Manchester United and is waiting to hear from AC Milan, Barcelona as well as host of other interested teams.
Incidentally the last player to transfer straight from Huracán to the English top flight was Ossie Ardiles.
The interest in Pastore has come as no surprise to his coach who again gives away his mystic view of football as he refuses to take full credit for the player’s development.
“He has a lot of talent, he does things that can't be taught," said Cappa. “He is still developing, so he needs to harness that ability and adjust it to work as part of a team. He is a player who invents things, he is tremendously creative.”
Pastore leads an Argentine newspaper’s showboating league and has all the tricks plus the final product to match. If Sir Alex does get his man it would not be unreasonable to view him as a long term successor for a talented winger and prolific whiner who has recently departed Old Trafford.
Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com
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