With footballers shipped out of Argentina after showing the first glimpse of talent there is an argument that the standard of the country’s top flight is on a par with the English League One.
Where Argentina finds itself in a league of its own however is the fervour with surrounds the country’s biggest game. River Plate and Boca Juniors may have been 12th and 15th place in the table going into the latest Superclásico but the occasion was a world apart from a mild mannered Westcountry clash between Exeter City and Bristol Rovers.
As with every meeting between these former neighbours the build-up brought to the boil more sub-plots than a decade of Coronation Street. Could River’s caretaker boss Jota Jota López mastermind a result that would secure him his job full-time? Would defeat for Boca’s beleaguered head coach Bichi Borghi final see him walk away from La Bombonera?
There was also mass debate over when the fixture would actually take place. The first delay came after the country suffered through four days of mourning following the death of former president Nestor Kirchner. The passing of the Peronist leader leaves behind Martin Palermo as the highest profile Argentinian sticking around in a job when packing up as soon as possible would serve his fans better.
A further delay came as a result of River’s El Monumental stadium being booked up the following Sunday for Paul McCartney’s trip to Buenos Aires. El Beatle played to a receptive crowd who still have love for Juan Román Riquelme and Ariel Ortega even if they have a combined age north of 64.
The next Sunday after the date the initial fixture was also unavailable, this time the Jonas Brothers took priority. By the time the match finally rolled around on Tuesday evening the trio of Boca’s Lucas Viatri and River’s Rogelio Funes Mori and Diego Buonanotte found themselves on the bench. The three young men were dropped despite receiving admiring glances from around the world, most notably England, Spain and Italy.
Despite the best efforts of presidents and pop stars the latest edition of El Superclásico finally got underway in Nuñez 16 days after first advertised. At least the game lived up to its billing as one of the world’s most coveted football matches by delivering next to nothing.
The only goal the match managed to muster deservedly went in favour of River. Celebrations were doubled by the fact that it was former Boca defender Jonathan Maidana who nodded home the winner.
The goal and a quiet night for the River backline capped off a good week for Maidana who has been invited to train with an Argentinian national team made of up locally based players.
Elsewhere on the pitch Ortega proved he still has enough in the tank to boss a game while either side of him teenagers Roberto Pereyra and Erik Lamela also troubled the Man of the Match panel. It was Lamela’s first taste of a Superclásico but the 18-year-old managed to inject some of the silky skills fans have come to expect from the fixture.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the night was River’s interim coach López. With over 450 appearances as a River player López has now bagged the head coach post until at least the end of the year as Los Millonarios trade in tiki-tiki for jota-jota.
For Boca an unfit Riquelme lasted until half-time while Palermo’s performance made Audley Harrison’s efforts against David Haye looked positively heroic. During the 90 minutes the visitors picked up more bookings than corners and the performance surely spells the end for Borghi.
After success earlier in the year with an unfashionable Argentinos Juniors side Borghi added a Clausura title to an already impressive CV which boasts multiple league titles in Chile. He would be well advised to sniff around the Chilean national job and leave behind the egos and has-beens that continue to undermine Boca’s return to the Copa Libertadores.
It will be of little consolation to the faithful of Los Bosteros that Borghi’s decision to play goalkeeper Javier García instead of Cristian Lucchetti proved a wise call. Instead, no blame for another limp performance will have to be shouldered by Riquelme or Palermo while Borghi will get both barrels.
With England preparing to take on a team which cheated its way to the last World Cup there’s nothing new about the adage “Football isn’t fair.” With this an accepted fact it must be reassuring for Borghi to know that the scales of injustice surrounding the world’s biggest club fixture are appropriately skewed.