Tigre stumbled to a draw with Atletico Rafaela this past Sunday afternoon – a result that left them three points behind Boca Juniors at the top of the Clausura table; it was one which also saw them drop into the automatic relegation places.
Argentina’s three-year relegation table has left Tigre going into the final three games of what has already been a remarkable season for the side from Victoria, simultaneously battling relegation and challenging for the club’s first ever league title.
“The reality is that it's nice to be up there,” said playmaker Diego Morales last week. “But the most important thing is to keep Tigre in the first division.”
A sentiment echoed by coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena. “Tiger has only one objective, to save the our place [in the league],” he says. “Reaching the [relegations play-offs] will be like winning a championship.”
That Tigre come into the final three games with a chance of survival is testament to the remarkable job the 36 year-old former Argentina international has done since taking over.
With 29 points, the club who have spent less than a third of their 110-year history in Argentina’s top flight have already secured their highest points tally in the past six seasons.
Arruabarrena, a Copa Libertadores winner with Boca Juniors who spent seven years in Spain with Villarreal, took the job just two weeks after ending his playing career in Chile with Universidad Catolica, and has overseen a steady improvement since his arrival at the club.
He’s well aware of his team’s plight and admits he’s still extremely worried by the prospect of relegation, but is relishing his role and leader and maintains a cool exterior. “If the head of the group shows calm, it’s better for the players,” he says.
Tigre escaped the automatic relegation places for the time this season just last week with a 3-1 win over fellow title challengers Newell’s and came into Sunday’s tie with Rafaela knowing victory would take them top of the table, if only for a couple of hours until Boca hosted Godoy Cruz.
They started much the better team on Sunday but failed to capitalise on their spell of dominance, spurning a number of clear chances before Nicolás Castro poked Rafela ahead. Defender Mariano Echeverría prodded an equaliser but a disappointing afternoon for the Matador was made worse by San Lorenzo’s stunning comeback against Newell’s.
2-0 down at half-time, San Lorenzo leapfrogged Tigre in the relegation zone with three second-half goals. The two sides meet in two weeks time, with San Lorenzo currently one point ahead of Tigre in the relegation table.
“We learned of the result of San Lorenzo result in the changing rooms,” said Morales. “But we’re confident because it depends on us. We know it will be a final and we will win.”
With three games to go, Tigre sit one point behind Boca at the top and one point behind San Lorenzo at the bottom. As one Tigre fan put it this week, it’s ‘todo o nada.’
Boca Juniors returned to the top of the table with a comfortable 3-0 win later that afternoon and Arsenal remain joint-second with Tigre following a 1-1 draw away at Estudiantes last night. Newell’s remain fourth, just a point behind, despite two straight defeats.
A stoppage time winner gave San Martin a boost in their fight against the drop – a result that condemned Olimpo to second division football next season. A Mariano Pavone goal got Lanus back to winning ways at home to All Boys, who dropped to sixth and were leapfrogged thanks to Velez’s 2-0 win over Colon in Santa Fe.
Racing Club earned their first win in three after Gio Moreno grabbed the only goal of the game against Belgrano, while Banfield went down to their tenth defeat of the season away to Argentinos Juniors. Independiente were held to a goalless draw at home by Union.
Estudiantes 1-1 Arsenal
Colon 0-2 Velez
Atletico Rafaela 1-1 Tigre
San Lorenzo 3-2 Newell's
Independiente 0-0 Union
Boca Juniors 3-0 Godoy Cruz
Lanus 1-0 All Boys
Argentinos Juniors 1-0 Banfield
Belgrano 0-1 Racing
San Martin 3-2 Olimpo