Boca unbeaten in 32 games, but coach on ropes

STEPHEN WADE AP Sports Writer Published:

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Coach Julio Cesar Falcioni is undefeated in 32 matches with Boca Juniors and fresh from winning the Argentine league title in December.

Boca also is among the favorites to take the Copa Libertadores, which it won four times between 2000 and 2007.

In short, the club that helped made Maradona famous is back on top and Falcioni is the toast of the Argentine capital.

Uhhh, not quite.

Falcioni is teetering on the edge of being fired -- or being forced to resign -- after a locker room run-in with team captain Juan Roman Riquelme this week following a scoreless draw at Venezuela club Zamora in the Copa Libertadores. The saga has been running ever since and the next chapter comes Sunday when Boca plays a league game at Union Santa Fe.

Falcioni has brought a defensive, cautious style to Boca, whose rabid fans view the club as South America's version of Barcelona or Real Madrid -- with one-tenth the payroll and little of the glitz.

Falcioni also has returned stability. When he was hired in December 2010, he was Boca's fifth coach in a year, following Claudio Borghi, Alfio Basile, Abel Alves and Roberto Pompei.

"Boca is solid," said club forward Santiago Silva, who joined recently from Italian club Fiorentina. "I like how the team plays. You can't question a team that has gone 30 matches without losing."

At Boca Juniors, the fans can -- and do.

It's reminiscent of when Vicente Del Bosque coached Real Madrid to two league titles and two Champions League titles in four years, and then left in 2003 when Real Madrid refused to renew his contract.

The dressing room confrontation in Venezuela seems to have undermined Falcioni, opening an avenue for players who were unhappy with his game tactics to complain. Riquelme, a favorite of Boca fans, is widely reported to have a frosty relationship with Falcioni. An artistic but temperamental midfielder, Riquelme has had his own problems getting along with teammates, including retired Boca forward Martin Palermo.

According to various versions, Falcioni became upset in Venezuela when he sensed that forward Dario Cvitanich was not following his directives, but rather the on-pitch directions of Riquelme.

Angry at Riquelme, Falcioni reportedly told him after the match: "When you're a coach, your team can play the way you want. But here I make the decisions."

In the two days following, Falcioni offered to step aside, then apologized to the team and personally to Riquelme, Cvitanich and several other key players.

"Falcioni asks for forgiveness and now the wait to see if calm returns," Argentina newspaper Clarin said in a Friday headline.

Club president Daniel Angelici termed it just "a misunderstanding," though sports talk shows in Argentina say it goes much deeper, with many fans suggesting Falcioni could be gone in days.

"It will not be easy to get out of this," club vice president Juan Carlos Crespi said in an interview. "But with the goodwill of everyone, it can be overcome."

Maybe only as long as Boca keeps winning.

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Follow Stephen Wade at https://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP