LA PLATA // Estudiantes could have two major trophies to their name by the end of the year - and their coach Alejandro Sabella is confident the Argentinian side have the squad depth to cope. The South American champions face a busy few weeks completing their Apertura league programme early in order to head for Abu Dhabi to take part in the Fifa Club World Cup, where they are favourites to meet Europe's representative, Barcelona, in the final.
Having beaten the Apertura title-holders Velez Sarsfield 3-0 on Sunday, they travel to Rosario Central today in the first of two matches brought forward by league officials from the end of the championship. "There's the mathematical factor and the mental aspect. On the one hand we'll be happy but on the other, fighting on two fronts will be tough," said Sabella, who at 55 is proving a big success in his first job as No 1 after a coaching career spent as Daniel Passarella's assistant.
"It's going to be awkward, we're going to have a series of successive matches, the fatigue will be greater, we're going to have to rotate the team," Sabella said. Sabella's leader on the field is the former Lazio, Manchester United and Argentina midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, whose career has enjoyed something of a renaissance back in his homeland since rejoining the team where he began his career in 1994.
The family name is steeped in history in the corridors of Los Pincherratas. Veron's father, Juan Ramon, was the linchpin of the Estudiantes team that won the club's first three South American titles from 1968 to 1970 and the world crown when they beat Manchester United for the Inter- continental Cup in 1968. "There are positions that are more difficult to cover or players who because of their importance are harder to replace," said Sabella, referring to Veron.
"The club's philosophy is to fight to the end and all the players are prepared for that. It is the life philosophy we were taught in the club." Estudiantes will play their last league match on December 4, two weeks before the scheduled end of the championship. They could leave for the Emirates as leaders and be crowned champions in their absence or return to Argentina to face a title play-off if they finish in equal first place.
Sabella, who said he had just begun to think about his team's potential rivals in the Club World Cup, is wary of the tag of favourites, warning that whichever team Estudiantes faced in their semi- final would be tough to beat. "On the track is where you see the best horses. You have to go step by step and the first is very difficult so you have to go carefully," he said. "It's not easy to get information and we have started looking for all we need."
He did have special words for European champions Barcelona. "They are a great team with tremendous standing, all national team players, they play good football," he said. "They lend you the ball a little bit then take it away again. But I trust in the heritage received by my players because they know the club, because they love the club." * With agencies