Central Córdoba (SE) v Newell’s Old Boys
15th March 2020
🏟️ Estadio Alfredo Terrera, Santiago del Estero
Unlike most European football leagues, Argentina can count itself lucky that it had enough time to complete its league season before the COVID-19 pandemic forced football to go into hiding. The final weekend of fixtures saw Boca Juniors declared champions but that’s where it ends. Due to the country’s every-changing and complicated league rules, relegation and continental places are still up in the air and are due to be decided by the Copa Superliga competition which begins this weekend. However, there’s a growing feeling that this competition will eventually meet the same fate as other football competitions across the globe and be indefinitely suspended in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 worst case scenarios playing out.
Nevertheless, this weekend’s opening round of Copa Superliga fixtures proceeds for now, but with matches being played behind-closed-doors without the fans that make Argentine football so unique and special. This isn’t a new prospect for Argentina. Away fans are already banned from attending most matches due to security reasons and matches going ahead with empty stadiums is something that’s familiar to fans of football in Argentina. A Clásico Rosarino fixture in the Copa Argentina in 2018 between Newell’s Old Boys and rivals Rosario Central was played in an empty stadium in neutral Sarandí to prevent the threat of violence. That match ended with a victory to Central and perhaps that will play on the minds of those Newell’s players who experienced that match and who are now preparing to play behind-closed-doors again.
On paper, Newell’s should be favourites to take 3 points in this one but there are a number of outliers to contend with. The northern city of Santiago del Estero, home to Central Córdoba, is notorious for its high temperatures with highs of up to 40 degrees celsius in March not unusual. The kick-off time for the match has already been moved to 10pm local time to mitigate this factor but latest forecasts predict that rain is actually expected on Sunday which might cool things down.
Newell’s are heading to Santiago del Estero off the back of a demoralising home defeat to Godoy Cruz, one of the Superliga’s poorest sides. In that match, where 29 shots yielded not a single goal for La Lepra, it became apparent that a strong midfield cannot make up for the lack of a consistent goalscorer. This will weigh on manager Frank Kudelka’s mind and it’ll be interesting to see if he persists with the attacking trio of Maxi Rodríguez, Luis Leal and Sebastian Palacios for this match.
In more positive news, Jerónimo Cacciabue, who missed nearly all of the Superliga season through injury, will get a chance to further build his match fitness after returning to action last week. If Copa Superliga matches continue to be played beyond this weekend, he’ll be integral to Newell’s in the absence of injured midfielders Pablo Pérez and Aníbal Moreno.
For Central Córdoba, who are just above the relegation zone in the Promedios, it’s now five games without a win in all competitions and while they’ll find encouragement in Godoy Cruz’s win over Newell’s last weekend, they’ve found it extremely hard to get a result against any team above them in the league season just finished. They visited Rosario in the first Superliga round of fixtures back in July 2019 and went down 2-0 to goals from Alexís Rodríguez and Lucas Albertengo but La Lepra have improved their squad since then and neither of those players are currently first-choice. Last weekend, they ended their Superliga campaign with a 3-0 defeat to underperforming Independiente and they’ll be calling on the likes of ex-Newell’s man Lisandro Alzugaray (4 goals, 2 assist in the Superliga) to put a dent in the aspirations of his former club on Sunday night if they want to start the Copa Superliga on the right foot.
Normally, watching Newell’s Old Boys play in an empty stadium isn’t the most attractive option to football fans who prefer to consume the best of European football when the weekend arrives but these are not normal times. While I’ll wait until Lionel Messi returns to Argentina to claim that the eyes of the world are on Newell’s Old Boys, this Sunday night offers a last lifeline to fans who feel empty without live football on the TV. Bring it on.
📺 Watch Central Córdoba v Newell’s: Live on Fanatiz
⏰ Kick-off: 22.00 ARG | 01.00 UK