This super clásico seems to have arrived as one of the most anticipated ever. But that’s the feeling it irradiates every single time.
La Bombonera gathers the most diverse kind of people. Between many, economical chasms and nationalities separate us. A group of Asian tourists dressed for the occasion in ‘azul y oro’ (blue and gold) stand out. The game has not started but already they show big smiles. Their incessant, indecipherable, murmur is frowned upon. My prejudice tells me they can’t possibly get it. I’m proved wrong when they stand up and flap their hands in tune with La Doce when it’s time to remember hoaspitalised Diego.
I guess nobody is immune to this.
I try to not get carried away neither by the alleged condition of River of underdogs nor by the near departure of Boca’s biggest idol of the last decade: Guillermo Barros Schelotto. I find that anything but easy.
My heart will be accelerated for 95 minutes and there’s no point in trying to fight it.
The first ball goes to Riquelme’s feet and it comes as a balsam: Román is in one of those days. You can tell, one touch is enough. The second ball he touches finishes in the quickest goal in the history of the clásico (50 seconds). Only he can find the unseen alleys to the goal and leave Ledesma in a position to execute River’s goalkeeper, Carrizo (I suggest that you remember that name). The waving terraces slide at the deafening shout of gooooooal, followed by Riqueeeelme Riqueeeeeelme, which will be spontaneously repeated all through the game.
The first 45 minutes are played at the pace that Riquelme settles. And no, it’s not slow. It’s profound, precise and elegant. Not only ball possession, but ten clear possibilities to score that mostly encounter the wall that Carrizo built up in the goal line. River seems to come back to life at the very end of the first half with one chance.
The breaks in Argentina are longer than in other leagues. They last long enough for the pessimist thoughts to arise. Everyone stuffs with whatever food is sold (they all include meat and bread) in order to avoid thinking about the widespread football law which says that the goals that you fail to score are scored against you. Whether if that’s true in itself is of little importance, it’s proved right in facts more often than not.
The second half finds an eroded Boca and an early equalizer from Rosales. He looks up to the sky, conscious of how grateful he and his fellow gallinas should be. River have a few chances to win the game and so do Boca. River don’t attack but wait crouched and counter attack, always a valid tactic, though hardly satisfying for the black palate that River fans parade.
Carrizo miraculously saves with his leg a free kick taken by Riquelme who also puts a remote-controlled ball on Palermo’s head. All the subtlety that his feet lack, lie in his headers. And yet, he misses. I know then that it’s just not going to happen. Not this time.
Passarella saved his head for now. During the previous game, River fans started chanting about him being a bostero. In their mouths, that’s a big offence. So he chose to carry a white and red umbrella when crossing the field in Boca (and we all let him know that we don’t want him here anyway). In the same line, after the game, he provocatively stated ‘I don’t celebrate draws, they do’. And yet his eyes were laughing so loud.
On the way out of la bombonera, the sense of loosing two points more than winning one was unavoidable.
But had we already forgotten what we just saw and how we felt? Riquelme floods our hearts with immense joy only by playing football. Anything can be said about him, but that’s the effect he has on us. Never has he failed us and we might consider ourselves lucky to have witnessed a breed of footballer in danger of extinction.
A constant reminder of the collective nature of the game.
R: ‘It’s my duty to do everything to help Palermo be the top scorer
J: ‘What about scoring yourself?’
R: (shrugging and looking down)‘I’m happier when I assist a teammate’
And those are not just empty words. Most of the celebrations of Boca’s latest goals include a gesture of thankfulness towards its conceiver who smiles in response (yes, Riquelme smiles).
Because on one of those days, he doesn’t randomly pass the ball. He protects it, even with his ankles at the risk of revenge from humiliated defenders, with such determination that we know he simply can’t loose it. Only then he raises his head and clarifies the play.
On one of those days, he treats us a trick or two and we say ‘have you seen what he just did?’ just to make sure it was not our eager imagination.
On one of those days, he defies modern football and proves that speed of mind beats sprinter's legs.
On one of those days, we get to smile and hope that those days never end.