The decentralisation of Argentine football

With Europe engrossed in the where and why of the 2018 World Cup, it's easy to ignore some fairly 'ground'-breaking choices in the 2011 Copa América.  Welcome to IBWM Adam Brandon.

July 1st 2011 will see the start of the 43rd Copa América* and the 9th to be hosted in Argentina. It was no real surprise Argentina was chosen as the host nation for the Copa América. There was a surprise however, when the Argentine FA announced the cities and stadiums to host the tournament. A decentralisation of Argentina’s most popular sport has possibly begun.

Football in Argentina is currently centralised by the fact that the Argentine club game is concentrated in Buenos Aires, the city and the province (confusingly the city isn’t part of the province of the same name). Currently there are 20 teams in the Primera División, only 3 clubs in the top flight are based outside the capital Buenos Aires and the BA province. This season sees Colón and Newell’s Old Boys in the Santa Fe province and Godoy Cruz in the city of Mendoza competing with the BA clubs. This isn’t just a current situation, historically the clubs based in 3 cities in the east of Argentina, Buenos Aires, La Plata and Rosario are dominate. These also include the oldest clubs as well, due to the location of the cities near ports and rivers and the railroad tracks all populated by British workers in the late 19th century bringing with them their entertaining sport. During the time it took building up the infrastructure in BA and beyond, they formed football clubs as well. In turn the railroad tracks made it easy for supporters to travel home and away once the Argentine league was formed in the 1890’s and the game grew enormously in and around the capital in the early 20th century.

The last time Argentina hosted the Copa América in 1987, only 3 cities were utilised by the Argentine FA. Matches were played out in Cordoba in the midwest, Buenos Aires and the passionate city of Rosario, which is just 4 hours from the capital city. Further to this, in the 1978 World Cup, only 5 cities were chosen to host matches, well below the average for the greatest international tournament in football. To date, Uruguay in 1930 and Chile in 1962 are the only nations to host the World Cup with fewer host cities chosen and they are far smaller countries. The clubs in these cities benefited from the World Cup matches being played in their stadiums and cities whilst many of the other cities and clubs in Argentina were left wondering where their slice of the pie (or empanada perhaps) is.

In 2011 however the member nations of CONMEBAL, plus invitees Mexico and Japan, will play matches in Salta, Jujuy, Mendoza, San Juan, Córdoba and Santa Fe. The only game to take place in Buenos Aires is the final. Additionally La Plata, the capital of the Buenos Aires province will host the opening ceremony and 5 other matches during the event.

With this decentralisation there has also been some interesting organisation of which nation plays where. Chile will play all their matches in Mendoza, a pleasant city just a few hours drive across the Andes, weather permitting, from the Chilean capital Santiago. Thousands of fans of Las Rojas will be expected to make the journey for matches against Uruguay, Peru and Mexico.

Paraguay and Bolivia will play in the northern cities of Jujuy and Salta which means cheaper travel for the fans of those respective nations. Although with this being a huge continent, it will still take them whole day to make the trip. Uruguay will play Mexico in La Plata which can be easily reached from the Uruguayan capital Montevideo by ferry.

As for the hosts, they will embark on a small national tour. Starting in La Plata against Bolivia they then host Colombia in Santa Fe and their final group game is in Córdoba against Japan. The 47,000 capacity Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes in Córdoba will also be the scene for their quarter final match if they were to win group A. It’s then back to La Plata for the semis. Lastly they will hope to be partying long into the night in Buenos Aires on the 24th July after the final in Estadio Monumental, home of River Plate.

Copa América 2011 is  being anticipated in South America as one of the more competitive editions of the competition. Argentina will be confident of winning the Copa América on home soil. You can never write Brazil off but the current holders are very much in a transition stage and building for the huge pressure which will face them in 2014.  Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay will carry a threat  judging by their performances in South Africa. Most Argentines were happy with their group, it’s worth noting that their last matches against Bolivia and Japan ended in defeats albeit away from home.

It is no doubt going to be a lot of fun for many fans across the country in the cities outside Buenos Aires. Getting a taste for high quality football and a chance to cheer on their national heroes in a Copa América match will be a first for most fans inside the stadiums and should make for some excitable crowds. It is hoped that the clubs in all these cities will recieve a boost in attendances and also stadium improvements after the Copa has taken place. We’ll have to wait and see if the pressure gets to Messi and his chums in July but whatever the outcome, many will be hoping this decentralisation will be a huge success for this football obsessed nation.

*Copa América has been the name of the competition since 1975, previously it was called the South American Championship.

You can follow Adam on Twitter @caniggiascores & read his excellent blog here