Madness and magic from Maradona’s motherland
When Martín Palermo scored the last-gasp goal against Peru in torrential rain at the Monumental, it was, according to the Argentine press, just one more episode in the remarkable career of Palermo that proved that his life story should be made into a Hollywood blockbuster.
Palermo has enjoyed plenty of success, winning trophies and scoring gazillions of goals in the process.
He’s had the disappointments of serious injuries, a failed career on the Old Continent, the infamy of missing a hat-trick of penalties for his country, the tragedy of losing a son…
Scoring a dramatic late winner for Argentina and re-enacting Tim Robbins’ escape in The Shawshank Redemption was just one more scene for the directors to play with.
Since that game, however, the Boca Juniors centre forward’s form has been in vertiginous decline, to the extent that going into the final match-day of the season, he hadn’t scored in over 740 minutes of ‘action’.
As the saying goes, however, cometh the hour, cometh the hombre.
Knowing that Boca-Banfield was a title-decider, Palermo pulled his socks up. He grabbed a brace - a drilled penalty and a nudge from two yards out.
It was classic Palermo. (Well, the nudge was classic. Everybody was nervously holding their breath as he ran up to take the penalty, and then once it hit the net they all agreed that, in fact, they never had any doubt that Saint Palermo would score).
There was one minor oversight by Palermo, who can’t have put on his reading glasses while perusing the script.
It wasn’t Boca who were hoping to take the title. It was the visitors.
On Sunday afternoon, Banfield looked like a mediocre, middle-tier team, a side with no real stars and a club that had never won a league title.
Taking a quick look through the record books proves that the image isn’t too far off the truth.
The Drill were runners up in 1951 and 2005, and apart from those two almosts, have little else to brag about.
Out on the pitch at the Bombonera, they passed to their opponents, the magnetic head of their Uruguayan centre-forward no longer attracted the 60-yard passes, they were out-played.
And on the biggest day in their history, full-back Julio Barraza decided that Nicolás Gaitán deserved a Berlusconi-esque bloody face and booted him. In the area. Cue Palermo’s penalty.
Things were not going according to plan. This wasn’t the team that Julio César Falcioni had moulded into a well-oiled machine.
This wasn’t the team that turned logic up on its head and been the revelation of the season.
It wasn’t the team that boasted the best defence in the land, that had lost just one game in 18 before the final day of the season, that had been shown the least yellow cards of any team, that had beaten River, Estudiantes, Vélez, Independiente and San Lorenzo, and that had won their clásico (away), and had also beaten the only team to push them for the title – Newell’s.
Losing on the final day of the season didn’t matter though. Banfield’s fans had waited 113 years, metaphorically, to see this happen.
89 year old grandmothers mixed it with mulleted adolescents at Banfield’s ground as they waited for the team to return home with the trophy.
While there were fireworks, pitch invasions, organised chaos and campeones! campeones! in the south of Buenos Aires, up in Rosario there were tears.
There were also rubber bullets shot into women’s faces afterwards. The mood at Newell’s Old Boys was not one of gracious defeat.
Like Banfield, Newell’s enjoyed a brilliant season, but they had lost one game more than their fellow title challengers.
The only way Roberto Sensini’s team could win the title was if Banfield lost, and they won.
And there was a problem, despite their form throughout the season. They were playing at home.
"Perhaps the pressure of playing in front of our own fans was too much," admitted Newell’s president Guillermo Lorente on Monday.
Had the title been decided on home form, Newell’s would have ended the season in the bottom half of the table. It was their performance away that kept them in the hunt for silverware.
Banfield’s consistency was what won them the title. One defeat at home, one away, five draws in total and the remaining games all ended in victories.
There is already talk of them challenging for the Libertadores next year.
Not a bad year for a club that started out as a cricket club.
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