A sixteen game trip mostly to the interior of Argentina.
Including visits to San Juan, Salta, Jujuy and Mar del Plata plus seeing Velez and Boca in the Copa Libertadores.
Beginning in Buenos Aires.
22nd February 5pm Sportivo Italiano 0 Flandria 0 Primera B 200
Sportivo Italiano play out towards the main international airport near Ciudad Evita on the 56 (or 8) bus route.
I relaxed in the nearby Holiday Inn before crossing over the motorway to the ground - an open wedge of terrace opposite a mix of seats and more terrace.
This was not great game with the only significant moment being when a Sportivo sub. gets a debatable red card for a mistimed tackle.
That only meant both teams tended to settle for a draw.
10pm Velez 3 Chivas Guadalajara 0 in the Copa Libertadores. 23,000
I took the no.8 bus from near the Sportivo ground to Liniers.
In the circumstances of the tragic train crash on the Once to Liniers line it felt better to avoid the trains at least for one day.
There was a short period of silence then applause for the victims before the game.
It happens a lot these days but it was no doubt warranted not least because many of the fans would have often travelled on that busy line.
Velez won this fairly comfortably in the end as the Chivas defence crumbled.
Federico Insua scored two of the goals.
But earlier Chivas had held their own with Omar Arellano especially dangerous.
Some 50 Mexicans made the trip to support their team.
The home fans were in good voice.
A short delay to let the visiting fans leave and I was able to get a taxi back to the centre by 00.30
24th Feb. Belgrano (Cordoba) 1 Union (Santa Fe) 0 Clausura 25,000
A 8.5 hour bus ride to Villa Maria for a pleasant stop over before going on to Cordoba.
Belgrano’s ground is of the older, inner city, style being mostly open with good sized terraces at either end.
There was a good turnout on a cloudy evening with most areas well packed..
Union also brought about 700 fans, many of whom didn´t get in until after the first 30 minutes.
One opportunistic strike did it for Belgrano and they had their first win of the season (in what is being called the General Belgrano League)
Otherwise it was a typical Argentinian league game with plenty of midfield battling and misplaced longer passes.
The fans were as usual very noisy.
26th Feb. Sportivo Desamparados 1 River Plate 4 Nacional B 24,000
From Cordoba to Mendoza (11.5 hours) and a very pleasant night to enjoy the ‘city of wine’.
And this time not only a wine festival on the Saturday night but also a rock concert in the Plaza Independencia.
It is 2.5 hours from Mendoza to San Juan passing some more interesting countryside with mountains and a desert-like terrain on the way.
This match was played in the Estadio del Bicentenario, a Copa America ground.
The stadium comprises three sides of large terrace and a two tier ‘main stand’.
The fans were divided 50-50 although the visitors had the larger numbers, around 12,500 had travelled the 1000 km from Buenos Aires and places in-between.
Making it a big day for San Juan.
Los Borrachos produced their large flag and drove on the noise.
Maybe the result could have been different if Sportivo had been given a penalty early on for a possible handball.
But River probably would have won anyway.
They were certainly stronger, helped by some poor goalkeeping.
Their second goal was of a higher class involving a good interchange of passing and French star David Trezeguet came on to get a deflected fourth.
However Desamparados did score the best goal with a great dribble and shot by substitute Anivole.
So it wasn´t a famous win for well supported Sportivo and River returned to the top of the second division.
The programme included a history of the visitors and how they started in the La Boca region of Buenos Aires.
It also mentioned quotes from the Guardian and the Sun about the fame of the Superclasico.
I took the first bus back to the centre, the ground is 5/6 km outside of town, and struck up a conversation with some River fans.
do you like River or Boca ? River
what did you think of the fans ? Great (as were the Sportivo fans)
where do you come from ? England
we like Manchester City especially Sergio Aguero. Yes he´s playing well.
But not Carlos Tevez (ex-Boca) - he´s a ….r and a ...r
Reever ..Reever Plate
Back in the centre before midnight I enjoyed some wine in the pleasant warm ambiance of San Juan and watched the fans returning.
27th Feb. Juventud Alianza 1 Huracan Las Heras 2 Argentino B 700
Alianza play in Santa Lucia a ten minute or so ride from the centre of San Juan.
Their ground is a typical mix of older terrace and some slightly better seating.
Around 200 fans of Les Heras made the trip from Mendoza and they brought their flags and drums.
As is often the case the fans made the entertainment with the Las Heras barra showing they could shake a fence with the best of them.
Both number nines scored, the first from Jorge Detona of Las Heras a shot the home goalie should have saved.
Inevitably that goalie was given a good write up (‘safe hands’) in the fan produced programme.
The visitors’ winner was a header which decided the contest between two teams in the middle of group 7 of Argentino B, the fourth, non-metropolitan, level.
Via Tucuman after a 12.5 hour bus ride from San Juan.
I stopped in Tucuman - a cheap hotel near the bus terminal being more than adequate.
From there a four hour ride to the attractive city of Salta through some wooded valleys and mountain scenery.
There are hotels in the main square around which are some very attractive Spanish style buildings.
Salta is a popular location for backpackers and tourists.
29th Feb. 7pm Velez 2 Racing Trelew 0 Copa Argentina 600
Played in the Estadio Martearena (City stadium) that also hosted games in the Copa America.
This was the first game of a double header of Copa Argentina Round of 32 matches.
This is only the third ever edition of the cup (the second version was never finished)
And it has hardly captured the imagination of the fans.
Only 600 were at the first match and 200 at the second.
Velez had a few hundred fans though probably few made it from Buenos Aires (1300 km distant) and there were about a dozen from even further away Trelew (2000 km)
Racing did have a couple of good shots but each were well saved.
Velez scored twice in the first half, the second a well placed free kick.
That was enough for the win.
10pm Arsenal 2 General Lamadrid 1 Copa Argentina 200
Only a handful of Arsenal fans and about 30 or so supporting Lamadrid watched the second game.
The lower level team (B Metro) scored first via a well placed chip of the goalie.
Arsenal equalised just before the break also from a free kick.
And they got the winner in the last minute after Lamadrid had defended stoically.
As Argentinian fans don´t tend to watch neutral club games it would make more sense to play most of these cup games at the home of the lower level team.
Except of course when Boca or River come to town.
Staying in Salta I took a short bus ride to San Lorenzo and the Quebrada area which has some great views and very pleasant surroundings. The town is home to many of the richer local citizens with large houses that would not out be out of place in leafy Surrey.
2nd March 9.30pm Gimnasia Y Tiro 0 Racing Cordoba 1 Argentino A c. 12,000
The final game in the first phase of the league and it would mean GYT would finish in the bottom half of the table.
Their ground, El Gigante del Norte, feels much older than the apparent build date of 1993 with its old style main stand set back from the pitch and unusable terracing (because that’s where they hang the flags)
But as with most inner city grounds it has plenty of atmosphere.
Ultimately the home fans were reconciled to defeat as their team was well beaten.
Racing scored early from a far post cross and should have scored another two or three, hitting the post and bar.
About 20 hinchas had made the trip from Cordoba and they could celebrate a win and a place in the top six.
Before the game we had a Malvinas protest - given some support by the fans.
Somebody who did give his backing was Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd), at a concert at the Monumental in Buenos Aires.
But most locals seem indifferent - just politics said one to me.
Two hours from Salta going north, passing some more impressive scenery, is San Salvador Jujuy.
4th March Gimansia Jujuy 1 Atletico Tucuman 1 Nacional B 8,000
It always seemed a bad plan to accommodate the two sets of ultras so close together.
And so it turned out as both started to bait each other finally leading to the visiting 250 or so being forced out of the stadium by the police.
They missed a good strike from Colombian Castillo just after half time.
But the home side´s captain, Luna, following a couple of earlier sighters placed a neat free kick over the wall for the equaliser.
Into the second period the heavens opened (mountains nearby a factor) and we had a bad storm continuing until well after the match had finished.
Flight from Jujuy to Aeroparque and then a one hour bus ride to La Plata.
5th March Gimnasia La Plata 2 Chacarita 0 Nacional B 10,000
More heavy rain at this game and for a time it looked like that and the thunder would cause a delay but we carried on.
Not that that bothered the ultras much as they gave good support to the home side.
The main Chacarita ultras were banned from travelling but there were 30 or so fans in the away section.
This was a comfortable victory for Gimnasia against the relegation threatened visitors and they probably should have scored more goals.
The ground is in the same park area as the old/new Estudiantes stadium and you pass it on the way.
It has an impressive main stand structure and wooden terracing but despite the lack of cover I´m sure most fans prefer playing here to the larger City stadium.
6th March Huracan Tres Arroyos 1 Union (Mar del Plata) 2 Argentino A c.800
Tres Arroyos is an upmarket city, a seven hour bus ride south from the capital.
Maybe because of the middle class profile there were not many ultras at this game even though those there did set off some fireworks.
On the pitch Union were the better team.
Their pacy forwards always looked too tricky to stop for the home side.
Even though the visiting goalie gifted Huracan a goal Union soon got back in the lead.
The result meant Union will play in the top group for the second phase of Argentino A.
7th March Boca Juniors 1 Fluminense 2 Copa Libertadores. 45,000
Back on the bus to Retiro and a metro ride to the San Telmo area.
Where I stayed in a pleasant boutique hotel, relaxed for a while, enjoyed a mojito whilst watching some outdoor tango then strolled to the Bombonera.
Juan Roman Riquelme, the artist you might say, was more slow motion black and white rather than sparkling colour.
But even so he still has the touch, the perfectly weighted pass and the ability to deliver from free kicks.
As he did for the Boca equaliser.
But before that Fred had headed in from a free kick and the Brazilians won it when the promising young winger Wellington Nem beat his man and crossed for Deco to convert.
The atmosphere was great as the barra brava and the rest of fans drove on their team.
Fluminense also had their support, some 3,500 had made the trip from Rio.
The defeat, their first for 36 games, damages the chances of Boca in the Copa but neither side really looked likely competition winners.
New Uruguyan striker Santiago Silva didn´t have the best of nights for the home side.
I was able to get away quickly and was back in San Telmo for a late night beer by 00.30
Reached via Santa Fe , well over six hours from the capital, and about an hour from there to Parana across the large river of the same name.
9th March Patronato 3 Instituto 1 Nacional B 14,000
One of the best games of this trip, especially for the first hour.
Both teams played some impressive football with Patronato taking the initiative early with two quick goals.
The first a free kick, the second a cross, return header and conversion.
The home side would add another just after half time and although Instituto quickly got one back the league leaders were well held.
There were some 800 from Cordoba behind the goal but they were outshone by the flares and fireworks from the locals.
I took the bus back to Santa Fe and had some wine and chips whilst waiting for the much longer overnight bus trip to Buenos Aires.
From there I took the 8am Plusmar service to Mar del Plata.
10th March Aldosivi 2 Boca Unidos 1 Nacional B 3,500
Mar del Plata is a large seaside resort and on this Saturday the locals were out enjoying the sunshine and the street musicians.
It was cooler in the breeze following the heat of Santa Fe.
Even so they still stopped for a drinks break after half an hour.
Aldosivi play in one of the old 1978 World Cup stadiums - a vast bowl of end terraces and open seating.
I doesn´t seem like it has been updated since that World Cup and retains the old (now non-functioning) scoreboard and camera tower.
It is clearly far too big for the home side unless River come calling.
Not surprisingly no away fans (visibly) made the very long trip from Corrientes.
The home fans did produce plenty of support and despite the relatively small numbers there was no shortage of fanatics.
Aldosivi probably deserved the win although they were pegged back by a Boca penalty.
The game neared the finish with a typical altercation caused by the home team time wasting.
Back to Capital Federal.
11th March Chacarita 1 Atlanta 1 Nacional B 13,000
You would not want to walk through the Chacarita hinchas lining Guitterez street on the way to the stadium wearing a blue and yellow shirt.
This was a relegation matchup and also a clasico.
No away ultras were allowed to travel although about 30 fans were in the visitors section.
Many would wish they never came as there was violence after the game and some ended up in hospital.
The Chacarita ground has been updated - that is in an Argentinian way - by changing the wooden terrace for concrete.
It now has three large slabs with nothing, except views of the city, along one side.
As you would expect there was plenty of atmosphere.
But Chaca have a moderate team lacking some quality and confidence.
Atlanta were better and took the lead and seemed like winners until defender Sebastien Pena showed good control to score from close in for a very late equaliser.
He had been the local hero also going close with a couple of headers.
That sparked some wild celebrations.
I exited quickly as the mayhem continued back at the ground.
In the centre I watched the last part of Boca v Independiente (4-5 !) while enjoying a Patagonia weissbeer followed by steak and wine.
12th March Huracan 1 Almirante Brown 1 Nacional B 15,000
Staying in Buenos Aires for the sixteenth and final game of this trip.
The start was delayed for 30 minutes because of a Presidential TV broadcast.
Almirante brought large numbers of hinchas and they outshouted the locals.
Their team was also superior although their goal was a gift from the home goalie who dropped a long cross.
The visitors passed the ball better and should have had another couple of goals.
But the longer it stayed 1-0 the pressure was applied by Huracan and they got the equaliser in the fifth minute of added time from a glancing header.
We were kept in for 30 minutes so that the numerous away fans could get away on their buses.
I was back in the centre by 10.30 to watched the later stages of Velez v Olimpo accompanied by more wine.
Another memorable trip to Argentina with, this time, many days spent outside of Buenos Aires.
I took long bus trips (mostly on time or thereabouts) from the capital to Cordoba, onto Mendoza, San Juan, Salta and Jujuy.
Then further south to Tres Arroyos and Mar del Plata.
I saw some great scenery around the west of the country, towards the Andes and especially around the attractive city of Salta.
There were no really great games but as always there was plenty of atmosphere and interesting grounds.
Again the visits emphasised the strength in depth of the support for Argentinian football outside of the capital.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1187102752 and http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1187219830
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1187102752 and http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1187219830