Not too long ago, we here on The Stoppage Time talked about Club Atletico River Plate‘s demise in 2011 as part of a FIFA Club World Cup final preview. A few years after their descent into the Primera B Nacional, Argentina’s second division, another relegation story took place. It is not as heralded as that of River, but it is a story of a club that spent more than a century at the top of the country’s first division.
Club Atletico Independiente are an organization based in Avellaneda, a big suburb of Buenos Aires with a population of 328,980. As a consequence, the main rival of Independiente is Racing Club, and the Avellaneda derby is the second-most important derby in the country outside of the Superclasico between River and Boca Juniors (more on them in a bit). In fact, both stadiums—Independente’s Libertadores de América (a.k.a. La Doble Viscera) and Racing’s Presidente Juan Domingo Perón (a.k.a. El Cilindro)—are within a short walking distance to each other.
Independiente’s trophy heist, though not as gaudy as Boca or River, is reputable in its own right. The club has won 16 Primera Division titles (the last won in 2002), two Intercontinental Cups, seven Copa Libertadores (the latter two each last won in 1984, a Copa Sudamerica in 2010, a Recopa Sudamericana in 1995, and several minor trophies on the domestic and international fronts.
The year was 2013. The day: the 16th day of the month of June. Feeling the side effects of poor financial management and insipid squad selections a few years prior, Independiente had finished the Torneo Inicial 18th of 20 with 17 points in 19 matches. 2013 would see the club go through three different managers: Christian Diaz, Americo Gallego and Miguel Angel Brindisi. To make matters worse, a loss to River early in the year triggered some unsavory scenes. Watch this.
So everything went down to the final day in that season. Two other sides were on the make. Argentinos Juniors (the club of Diego Maradona who would also be relegated to the second division in a future season and of whom are currently battling back to return to the top flight this year) were hosting Club Atletico Colon and needed a win as well. San Martin de San Juan (who would also be relegated despite finishing with a higher points average) had a difficult assignment in Estudiantes de La Plata. Union de Santa fe’s fate was long sealed. (Ironically, they are currently in the Primera Division.)
As for Independiente? They hosted, at the Doble Viscera, San Lorenzo. That San Lorenzo team at the time featured a cunning midfielder by the name of Ignacio (Nacho) Piatti, who is now more known as one of the faces of the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer. As the match wore on, San Martin started off the gates early with a 1-0 lead of Estudiantes, who ended the year seventh in the relegation ladder (avg 1.465).
It is worth noting that an averaging formula is used to determine who got relegated and who remained up. Since 2015, the bottom four teams were sent down, instead of the bottom three, since the current competition involved 28 teams and will slowly be reduced to 24. To be truly relegated, the off-the-pace-form has to be sustained for three straight seasons and one off year can be countered by two good years. At the present, this comes in handy in the case of River Plate, whose 2016 campaign went belly up with 18 points but was alleviated with an ongoing heist of 52 points (15-7-5), and, believe it or not, Boca, who had a laughable 20 points in 2016 but are leading this season’s edition with 56 points and a 16-8-3 record to stay at the top of the relegation table.
Returning to the match, late in the first half, tensions were boiling over and the barriers were broken, forcing some foolishly brave supporters to vocally voice their voracious discontent vociferously. The match referee was forced to pick up the ball on 43 minutes and call an impromptu conference between both sides regarding the fans’ conduct. At halftime, both Independiente and San Lorenzo were scoreless. Argentinos and Colon were also scoreless, and San Martin still hung on to their 1-0 lead over Estudiantes.
The second half would be the moment of truth for all three teams in question. On 51 minutes, Argentinos took a 1-0 lead over Colon. At the 59th minute, San Lorenzo took a 1-0 lead on a goal from Angel Correa (who is now plying his trade at Atletico Madrid) and the pressure was on. The looks of the fans faces were that of sulking tears and despair; not so much with a full intention to riot like the youthfully entitled supporters of River, but a sense of feeling that the drop was inevitable, after 101 years of top flight football. San Martin then took a 2-0 lead over Estudiantes on 81 minutes. It was a shame for the San Juan side that would not exactly be enough, by the slightest of margins.
The final whistle eventually blew, but this time, the Independiente fans were well behaved and did not riot. One would expect the cowardly petulance of entitled projectile-throwing fans to be on showcase for a club of this stature, but the remarkably civil conduct from its supporters is worth at least a modest trifle of respect. At least, until this…
Which all, unsurprisingly, lead to this.
As expected of Independiente, they rebounded the following season with a 17-16-9 record (67 points).
But the comeback story almost did not have a happy ending. They had to put up with a playoff with another Buenos Aires side in Club Atletico Huracan on June 11, 2014. Normally, using standard procedures, Huracan would have been promoted on goal differential (Ironically, they are currently in the Premier Division but are battling the drop as of right now). One can argue that this tie was set up by design to give Independiente a chance to restore the pride and dignity it lost by being relegated the season prior. They won the match at the Estadio Tomás A. Ducó, in the district of Parque Patricions, popping the Balloon on a 2-0 scoreline, and the comeback story was complete.
Today, Independiente are back to their normal form, boasting a strong avg of 1.747, good for fifth after two of their last four campaigns yielding strong points production. They are now on pace to qualify for the 2018 Copa Sudamericana, which they, coincidentally, last won on the year the wheels began to fall off. Independiente’s descenso in 2013 now means that the one club that has yet to experience the agony of relegation and the consequences associated with it are Boca Juniors. You can only wonder how not just Buenos Aires or Argentina, but the world will react when this finally happens.
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