River hopes dry up as merge plan shelved
AFA confirm Sabella as national coach and say they will not join top two leagues following River Plate's relegation.
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2011 06:42
Sabella follows Argentine heavyweights Sergio Batista and Diego Maradona into the hotseat [EPA]

Alejandro Sabella was confirmed as coach of Argentina on the day the country's football association backed down on a much-criticised plan to fuse the first and second divisions into a 38-team national championship from next year.

The plan, to include the 20 first division sides and 18 from the second-tier Nacional B, was seen as a ruse to get relegated giants River Plate back into the top flight as quickly as possible and also ensure other big teams did not risk the drop.

"The AFA resolved tonight (Monday) to suspend consideration of the proposal," the Argentine Football Association said in a statement on its website, while not ruling out looking at it again at a later date.

Players, coaches, fans, club directors and media were scathing in their criticism of the idea, made public last week, which would have been introduced in the 2012-13 season.

Fans called for a demonstration at AFA headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires.

Reports also suggested it might have been a plan for the government, which controls broadcasting of first division matches, to expand into the Nacional B, which is televised by a private channel.

The Apertura championship, the first of two tournaments in the Argentine first division season, kicks off this weekend.

The Nacional B is a single-season long championship, with River taking part after being relegated for the first time in June.

Sabella was confirmed as coach of the national team until the 2014 World Cup finals after Sergio Batista had his contract rescinded following a disappointing Copa America.

Common knowledge

AFA president Julio Grondona told Fox Sports on Monday there would be no formal announcement since it had become common knowledge Sabella was being given the position.
Sabella, who was assistant to Daniel Passarella at the 1998 World Cup, is expected to speak to the media at Argentina's Ezeiza training camp on the outskirts of the capital.

"The details are being finalised but Sabella has already been presented (in the media) and will be coach from here...until the World Cup in Brazil, contingent on Argentina qualifying for the tournament," said Grondona.

Sabella, 56, is the fourth coach to take charge of Argentina in five years since Jose Pekerman quit after the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.

He has withdrawn from a deal with United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira to be free for the Argentina job.

Batista, who took over from Diego Maradona after last year's World Cup finals in South Africa, was to have taken the team through the South American qualifiers and on to the finals if they qualified but Argentina's exit from the Copa America quarter-finals on home soil last month ended up costing him his job.

Sabella had a successful two years in his first job as a head coach with Estudiantes, highlighted by victory in the Libertadores Cup, South America's elite club competition, in 2009 and the Argentine Apertura league championship last December.
A former River Plate and Estudiantes playmaker who spent time in England with Sheffield United and Leeds United between 1978 and 1981, Sabella was ex-Argentina captain Passarella's right-hand man at several clubs including River where they forged their partnership.

Argentina have not progressed beyond the last eight at a World Cup since the side captained by Maradona reached their second successive final in Italy in 1990.

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