Boca unbeaten in 20 games - and heading for title
Boca Juniors are again Argentina's most popular club, thanks in part to a 20-game unbeaten run and the likelihood of their first league title since 2008.
Boca defeated Tigre 1-0 on Sunday, and on Monday the headline in the daily La Nacion asked: ''Who Can Stop Boca?''
Responsible for the turnaround is coach Julio Cesar Falcioni, who took over 10 months ago and has met the expectations of some of football's most demanding fans.
When Falcioni took charge, Boca had just completed the 2010 Apertura season with just 25 points from 19 matches. A year later in the 2011 Apertura season, Boca has 24 points in just 10 matches.
The 55-year-old Falcioni seems to have a permanent frown, a contrast to the boyish shock of brown hair that he's often brushing off his forehead. He won the 2009 Apertura title with Banfield, the first Argentine league title in the modest club's 113-year history.
This season, Banfield is last.
Falcioni has brought stability to Boca, following Claudio Borghi who was there for only seven months before stepping down and eventually taking over Chile's national team. Prior to Borghi, Boca had four coaches in four months - and not much success.
The chaos took a toll. The Buenos Aires club was a dominant force in South America between 2000 and 2008, when it won four Copa Libertadores titles in 2000, '01, '03 and '07.
Boca has also won the Argentine league title 23 times, 10 fewer than archrival River Plate.
''Fans are happier now than they have been in a long time,'' Boca's playmaking midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme said Sunday.
Riquelme is another reason why.
The former Barcelona player is going through a revival. After being shunned by the national team under then-coach Diego Maradona, Riquelme is in a position to be a key player on the squad of new coach Alejandro Sabella.
A left knee injury is likely to keep him out of upcoming qualifiers against Chile on Friday and Venezuela on Tuesday, but a role seems almost certain.
''Roman is always capable of being called up,'' Falcioni said.
Boca has also benefited from the retirement of striker Martin Palermo. A record goalscorer with the club, Palermo was largely an aerial threat. Without him, Boca is keeping more possession and passing the ball on the ground.
Boca is also better at the back, with only two goals allowed in 10 matches.
The Xeneizes - a nickname linked to the club's founding by Italian immigrants - have a five-point lead over second-place Rafaela after 10 rounds. Boca faces Rafaela in the 13th round and has tough matches remaining with Racing Club, Colon and Belgrano. All three are within striking distance of Boca.
''We are only thinking about ourselves,'' Falcioni said after Sunday's victory. ''We are not looking at what the others (teams) do, or don't do.''