BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Boca Juniors’ capture of Italy striker Dani Osvaldo and Uruguay playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro among nine new signings has made them favourites for the Argentine league championship starting on Friday.
With their last league title three years ago, an eternity for a team of Boca’s standing, coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena went on a recruiting spree that means he could field 11 internationals when Boca open their campaign against Olimpo at La Bombonera on Sunday (2115 GMT).
“I have lots of options. I hope I’ll be the bad guy for not fielding (some of) them and not due to poor form,” said Arruabarrena.
Juan Roman Riquelme finally slipped out of the Boca picture last year, helping his first club Argentinos Juniors to win promotion back to the top flight before deciding to retire in January.
Olimpo will be the first rivals for Boca in a controversial, new 30-team championship in which rivals will meet only once, home or away depending on the draw, apart from one extra fixture for return “clasicos” or derbies.
The 10 teams promoted to make this unwieldy new format possible are likely to provide the relegation candidates at the end of the year, such is the gulf in strength and class with the 20 teams that played a transition tournament in the second half of last year without relegation.
Boca’s championship rivals will include Diego Milito’s title holders Racing Club and Copa Sudamericana winners River Plate whose attack is led by Colombia’s South American player of the year Teofilo Gutierrez.
River had hoped to benefit from a comeback by a prodigal son, former Valencia, Benfica and Argentina midfielder Pablo Aimar, who returned home last year from a spell with Johor in Malaysia.
However, a troublesome foot injury required new surgery this month leaving the 35-year-old unavailable to coach Marcelo Gallardo until the second half of the year.
Racing play on Friday at home to Rosario Central, whose arch-rivals Newell’s Old Boys host Independiente in the two biggest matches of the opening fixtures.
River, in contrast, head for the Buenos Aires provincial city of Junin to meet Sarmiento on Sunday, whose only previous experience of top flight football came 32 years ago.
The gulf is best illustrated by Crucero del Norte, a modest club from the northwestern province of Misiones founded in 1989 and coached by former Deportivo La Coruna, Real Sociedad, Olympiakos and Argentina defender Gabriel Schurrer.
Not only did they have scant resources to strengthen their team for the challenges ahead but they also have few fans and have said they may have to play home matches against big guns River and Independiente in neighbouring Chaco where they are sure of much better gates.
“We have a lot of things but we’re short of supporters. Here in Misiones people aren’t too passionate about football but we do get asked about the matches against River and Independiente,” club president Julio Koropeski said.
“We’ll enjoy what we’re experiencing and if we manage to survive in the first division we’ll have a different outlook towards the future.”
Editing by Justin Palmer