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By ESPN Staff

Lanús rise as Corinthians fall

It has been a strange week for South American football. While the unfancied Lanús clinched their first Argentine league title in the club's 92-year history, the relegation of Brazilian side Corinthians was sealed with a disappointing draw against Gremio.

While the city of Lanús may be best known for being the birthplace of Argentine legend Diego Maradona, its football club has shot to prominence this season by picking up their first ever Apertura title, pipping Maradona's favoured side Boca Juniors in the process.

Indeed, with Boca's chances of success in the league already over (after a defeat at the hands of fellow title chasers Tigre last week), Lanús only had to draw at the Bombanera stadium to guarantee themselves the title. They did and, in doing so, became one of only four teams in history to celebrate winning a league title at Boca's infamous ground.

It really is a rags-to-riches story for the club from the suburbs of Buenos Aires. Spending most of their history in the lower leagues of Argentine football, the club blossomed under the guidance of boss Hector Cuper, who would later go on to manage Inter Milan and Valencia.

Just sacked by his most recent club, struggling Real Betis, Cuper will at least be safe in the knowledge that his involvement with Lanús helped to make them the force that they are today; without Cuper, the team may never have consolidated their top-flight status in the mid 1990s.

But while Cuper can be credited with some initial success, current coach Ramon Cabrero, installed in 2005 and having previously worked a stint in the club's youth system, can take the plaudits for the side's current rise.

Cabrero's faith in youth has proved the key to Lanús' success. With a host of players like Lautaro Acosta, a recent under-20 world champion with Argentina, having come through the ranks, the future looks bright for a side who showed glimpses of their potential in the 2006 Clausura championship - finishing second.

21-year-old winger Diego Valeri, another to have come through the youth system, is already attracting interest from Europe with Italian giants Juventus reportedly keen to snap him up and there are a number of players within the current squad who wouldn't look out of place in Europe.

Inspirational striker and prolific goalscorer, Jose Sand, is one, and he netted 15 of their 34 goals this campaign. An under-performer for the past five years or so, Sand is the all time top scorer in the River Plate youth academy and has finally realised his potential with some impressive league form.

The biggest challenge for this Lanús side could be keeping the team together, but it is indicative of a change in Argentine football that so-called 'smaller' sides are now finding success through an established framework.

Without corruption or delayed salaries, the organisation (both in the in the boardroom and on the pitch) of the likes of Lanús, Tigres and Arsenal mean that they could be on the brink of achieving more in Argentine football than the traditional Boca, River and Velez sides.

Only time will tell, but with their first title in the bag, Lanús could very well become the blueprint for the successful running of Argentine clubs in the future - if they can hold onto their young stars.

While underdogs claim all the headlines in Argentina, it has been a horror story for one of the most popular and successful sides in Brazil - Corinthians.

Almost exactly three-years since the club signed a controversial partnership with the London-based Media Sports Investments company, Corinthians were relegated to Brazil's second division for the first time in their history after failing to pick up a win against Gremio last weekend.

Interestingly, Corinthians now join a lengthening list of traditional Brazilian clubs dropping into the lower tier. Palmeiras, Botafogo, Grêmio and Coritiba e Atlético-MG, have all been former champions in the last five years and have gone through the embarrassment of relegation, but it is the link with MSI that makes Corinthians' case so intriguing.

Best known for their involvement in the Carlos Tevez transfer affair, MSI's 10-year partnership with Corinthians was viewed as a 'necessary evil' by the board after previous attempts to bring in financial help had left the club with spiralling debts.

MSI brought in the likes of Javier Mascherano, Carlos Alberto and Tevez, but after the initial investments, failed to back them up with any more cash. Indeed, once these players had been sold, the club were forced to bring in new players from the lower divisions of Argentine football, which was never going to improve the squad.

Winning only ten games all year, the side boast a rich history with notable former players including Rivaldo, Socrates and Garrincha, but were hit hard by events behind the scenes. Allegations of money laundering, a Federal investigation and a betting scandal all added to their woes; and, after elimination in the 2006 Copa Libertadores tournament at the hands of River Plate, relations between the Corinthians board and MSI President Kia Joorabchian turned sour.

Eventually, in July 2007, it was announced that the club were breaking off all ties with the partnership after a Brazilian judge had ordered the arrest of Joorabchian and Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who authorities said was one of the group's investors, on money-laundering charges.

Now facing the economic cost of relegation, as well the continued investigations into the running of the club, it is a sad story for a side who had been Brazilian champions only two years ago.

One of South America's most popular sides, they won the FIFA Club World Championship in 2000, and relegation represents an incredible downturn in their fortunes after the club (and its 30million fans) had been filled with such hope following the initial conclusion of the MSI deal.

'Our plan is to build Corinthians into a team of galácticos,' Joorabchian had said on his arrival. 'Our goal is to do what Manchester United and Real Madrid have done.'

Although his early investment promised much, Joorabchian did not deliver and consequently the club have paid the price. However, having employed seven coaches in the first two years of the partnership, Corinthians cannot claim that the warning signs for their current situation weren't there.

With the players now forced to work their way back into the top flight, protests by the fans and the broken relationship with MSI still fresh in their minds, there is now little hope for the second best supported side in Brazil.

Teams have bounced back before, but surely the economic factors surrounding the club's downfall mean that it will be a long while before Corinthians are back in the Brazilian top flight.

Additional research by Marcelo Gorenstein.

  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter