Boca Juniors and the 5 Most Iconic Club Teams in Argentina
Many leagues in world football have a group of teams set apart from the rest, the elite of the division. In Spain the duo of Barcelona and Real Madrid have divided the Liga spoils between them for the past nine seasons, establishing themselves without a shadow of a doubt as the premier sides in the nation.
In countries such as England, meanwhile, the definition is more fluid. A so-called Big Four roughly correlates to the teams qualifying for the Champions League, and has seen members come and go while the core of Arsenal; Manchester United and Chelsea in recent seasons remains relatively intact.
Argentina is no exception to this tradition of naming the country's biggest institutions, although the local authorities went further than most in defining the identities of the Cinco Grandes (Five big clubs). In 1937, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) named their elite in terms of historical achievements, membership numbers and stadium size, handing them more votes than their peers in AFA meetings.
Almost 80 years later, this quintet still refer to themselves as part of this exclusive club, and they remain among the biggest and most successful institutions in Argentina.
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The Boca Juniors faithful are fond of using a rather boastful tag when describing their club. La Mitad Mas Uno (Half plus one) refers to the number of supporters who follow the Xeneize, stating that it is the club of the masses and of the majority of Argentina's population.
Opposition supporters, meanwhile, favour the term Bosteros (filth-dwellers); a slight on the gritty, iconic working-class neighbourhood of La Boca which has been the side's home since its inception in 1905.
Boca's most successful periods came in the 1960s, where under the captaincy of notorious ex-Argentina skipper Antonio Rattin they lifted four national titles, and during the first decade of the 21st Century. With stars such as Martin Palermo, Carlos Tevez and Juan Roman Riquelme calling the shots, no less than four Copa Libertadores wins in seven years and a torrent of Primera Division successes once more cemented the club as one of the biggest not just in Argentina, but across the world.
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River Plate's century-old tussle with Boca to decide who is the biggest team in Argentina has long been the most enthralling clash in the nation's football. On days of the Superclasico the country divides, and a great performance in that derby can make a player's career.
River began in the same La Boca neighbourhood as the Xeneize, but soon moved to the more affluent area of Nunez, earning themselves in the process the nickname of Millonarios due to their ample bank account. They were the first dominant force in Argentine football, winning three titles in the 1940s thanks to a stunning forward line dubbed La Maquina (the Machine).
With 53 official titles to their name, River are the most successful club in Argentina, although in 2011 they suffered their first ever relegation after losing a playoff against Belgrano. The fans, however, flocked to the Monumental in that year of exile, and they made an instant return to the Primera Division where they are currently fighting for the final title.
Independiente fans are currently mourning the worst week in their institution's history, having seen their side relegated to the Nacional B for the first time after a forgettable year full of controversy and poor results. When it comes to past achievements, however, the Diablos Rojos fully deserve to maintain their place among the elite of Argentine football.
Fans of the Avellaneda club call themselves the Rey de Copas (King of Cups), and with good reason. The Rojo became the first Argentine club to lift the Copa Libertadores in 1964, and with seven victories in that competition they are the most successful club in all of South America at the continental level.
Sergio Aguero was the last great player to emerge from the club, starting his career with the Rojo before securing a lucrative switch to Atletico Madrid while still a teenager. Aguero's football birthplace may be hurting right now, but with a grand tradition and one of the country's most loyal fanbases, they will surely be back in the top flight before too long.
The last 50 years have not been kind to Racing Club. Previously one of Argentina's most consistently successful institutions, since 1967 just one national title has come to the Avellaneda club and bitter rivals of Independiente. The years beforehand, however, established La Academia's place among the elite.
Racing's most glorious achievement came in 1967, when they became the first Argentine club to be crowned world champions. The Copa Libertadores took on Jock Stein's legendary Celtic side in the Intercontinental Cup, and after a win each Juan Carlos Cardenas' long-range stunner sealed a 1-0 victory in a tie-breaker played in Montevideo, securing that team's place in history.
Since then, instability off the field and in the boardroom, culminating in bankruptcy in 1999, have harmed the club's efforts. Racing, however, continue to be a top producer of young talent; stars such as Sergio Romero, Diego Milito and Lisandro Lopez all cut their teeth in El Cilindro before moving to Europe.
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Within the Big Five, San Lorenzo are notable for being the only side not to have lifted the Copa Libertadores; a fact that is seldom overlooked in the chants and insults of their rivals. In response, fans of the Cuervo can point to an enviable stable of celebrity fans—after all, what other club can claim with as much authority to have God on their side?
Pope Francis, the first Pontiff from the American continent, is a confirmed San Lorenzo supporter and member, a matter of great pride for the club. So too is Viggo Mortenson, the actor who played Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and who has invested sizeable sums into improving the institution and its facilities.
It has not always been plain sailing for the Cuervo, who in the 1980s suffered the forced sale of their iconic Boedo stadium by the military junta in power at the time, as well as the first relegation suffered by one of the Grandes in 1981. They made a swift comeback, however, gaining promotion the following year, and with momentum gathering for a return to the site of their old stadium the mood is positive for Francis' favourites.