Argentine top flight ready for life without River

Buenos Aires: The Argentine Apertura season that kicks off this weekend will go down in history as the first ever to be played without River Plate, after the Buenos Aires giants were relegated.

River, the "Millionaires" who have won a record 33 titles, were condemned to the second tier Primera B Nacional after losing a playoff against Belgrano of Cordoba in June.

An Argentine top flight without River was always as hard to imagine as a Spanish elite minus Real Madrid and Barcelona, and after the nightmare scenario became reality, the governing body of football in the country -- the AFA -- even came up with a proposal to merge the top two divisions from 2012, thus creating a 38-team championship and guaranteeing that River`s spell in the lower tier would be a short one.

The proposal has been dismissed after an outcry from media and fans, but the River debacle will take much of the attention away from the Apertura title race, which is set to be one of the most open in years.

The Argentine season is divided into two tournaments - the Apertura and Clausura - each of which has its own champion.

River`s traditional rivals, Boca Juniors, and Independiente will be expected to challenge after strengthening in the close season, while defending Clausura champions Velez Sarsfield must adapt to life without Ricky Alvarez, who was sold to Inter Milan.

Boca coach Julio Cesar Falcioni can no longer call upon the services of Martin Palermo, the legendary striker who has now retired, but Juan Roman Riquelme is still there.

Joining him are former Ajax striker Dario Cvitanich, as well as goalkeeper Sebastian Sosa, who played for Uruguayan side Penarol in their run to the final of the Copa Libertadores.

River`s relegation came about as a result of their poor average performance over three years, and Boca, San Lorenzo and Racing all need to perform well in the campaign ahead to avoid being sucked into a similarly difficult situation.

The season begins on Friday when Banfield host newly-promoted Atletico Rafaela and Union de Santa Fe face Argentinos Juniors.

Velez go to Godoy Cruz on Saturday, while Sunday sees Boca go to Olimpo.

Bureau Report

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