Speak of “City of God” and everybody knows where to look in an atlas. What about “City of Goals”? I am sure many would put in a shout for that title. Cold numbers show that Buenos Aires has the highest number of League Grounds within it’s limits, bar one (sorry, you’ll have to google it, or guess).
Of course this doesn't guarantee you will get a netbashing fest whatever match you decide to attend. Studying this semester’s fixtures, I went for a season ticket at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium; recently refurbished and enlarged (2004) home of Argentinos Juniors. River, Racing, Boca and San Lorenzo were due a visit. Wallet health played a part too.
Surely the words “Maradona Stadium” , “refurbished” and "enlarged" got your imagination going. A Great stadium to honour the the Great(est) player. Hold it. Next thing you know a Tsunami will be needed to get you closer to reality. Think of it as an indigent’s Highbury. Small pitch, bang in the middle of a neighborhood.
Yesterday it was Boca Juniors’ turn.
On Saturday night San Lorenzo, top of the heap, 4 points clear of Boca, unexpectedly lost against the “Villan’s” Velez. Boca decided to hand in a full strength teamsheet in what could be a key game in their persuit of the “Double” (League+Libertadores). Argentinos had already harvested 6 points from games againt River and Racing in their allotment-size pitch. Riquelme, part of the last golden batch from the Argentinos quarry, snatched by Boca at 16, would be playing his first game in La Paternal. Omens were good.
Argentinos presented a rigid 4-4-2 a la Graham’s Arsenal. Boca, 4-3-Riquelme-2. It was clear from the start thar Boca would have control of the ball and Argentinos sit back looking to counter attack. Lured by the unusual size of the goal when viewed from half way, Boca started to put people forward indiscriminately and it wasn’t long before Argentinos had 2 clear chances (1 wrongly invalidated score). Boca controlled leather and ground, but appeared to be just a sum of individual efforts. Clearly, the team on the pitch was Argentinos.
Like a bully who doesnt realise it is being outwitted, Boca kept on going forward idea-less, only to find out that Argentinos had fine tuned its finishing and deservedly were two goals up (Choy and Nunez). Both scores were textbook fast breaks: deep middfield ball recovery, short one-touch offload, quick long square pass for a wide open player who would storm down the pitch and cross the ball for the forwards, loosely marked one-on-one by returning defenders. Twice the ball went from boot to hair to nylon. Argentinos’ tactics proved to be spot-on (horrid Boca defending aside). Maybe too successful. 65 minutes still ahead.
Surprisingly it was Argentinos who appeared to be fazed by the unexpected state of the affair. An over-zealous result-preservation instinct kicked in. A robust 4-4-2 turned into a bus-like 6-3-1. With only a lone striker to fear, Boca started the siege. Boca had only managed to muster a string of half chances when their deficit was halved 10 minutes before halftime: it had to be something special. It was. A majestic long range shot, ball crossing the line up there, where spiders web (Cardozo). By half time you couldnt avoid the feeling that everything was set for an epic comeback.
Nothing changed at the start of the second half. Argentinos’s dicipline and efectiveness was a distant memory. Boca placed men wide open on both flanks and its fullbacks resembled well oiled pistons of a powerful V12. Defending was’t bad, but the Law of Probability plays against you when crosses shower. 15 minutes into the half Palermo (B) pounced onto the inevitable missclearance and the game was tied. 30 minutes to go.
The stands drapped in blue and gold were roaring. More so five minutes later when Ibarra (B-rigthback), who has the habit of scoring decisive wondergoals, dribbled past a defender and 25 meters out, launched an unstoppable left foot missile. We all saw it comming. A minute later Pontirolli (A-Gkeeper) saved a free header. Could Argentinos stop the rot?
There was plenty of time left (25 min), but the players in red had the semblance of a convict on death row. It was their manager who triggered a change in attitude when the substituted the man in charge of Riquelme with an offensive midfielder (Cordoba x Ortigoza). The gamble paid off 7 minutes later. From a free kick gained by himself, Cordoba crossed and found the head of Joy...sorry Choy, who placed the ball superbly. 3 red headers, 3 goals.
Still circa 15 minutes left and this game had new life in it. The home team could see that their opponents, despite greater quality, started to show the effects of playing middweek, and accepted the blow for blow proposition. Both teams had now a 4-2-4 shape. Middfield was mere transit area and both sets of fans were chanting their guts out.
Palermo had it once, saved by Pontirolli. Argentinos had it twice, the last one just a whisper wide (another header). Amid frantic tempo last resort defending was king.
In the end it was a tie. There was something for everyone in it. Boca came back from 2 down to shave off at least a point from San Lorenzo’s lead. Argentinos certified once again that its castle has thick walls. I enjoyed 6 nice goals and great entertainment. And Buenos Aires has strengthened its claim to be the “City of Goals”.
Man of the Match: Choy (A). Riquelme? I will have to check in the newspapers if he actually made it to the stadium.