Scores level in rain-soaked Superclasico
“No Fue Futbol”. “It wasn’t football”. That was the headline that sports daily Olé ran the day after a rain-drenched Superclasico that was overshadowed by the torrential weather conditions and terrible officiating. The sodden pitch was rendered virtually unplayable after a massive downpour in the capital, resulting in a match low on quality but high on incident thanks, in no small part, to a series of questionable refereeing decisions by Mauro Vigliano.
The build up around the game had revolved around the two young managers facing off in a Superclasico from the dugout for the first time. As players, River’s Marcelo Gallardo and Boca’s Rodolfo Arruabarrena had represented their respective clubs numerous times in the pressure cooker atmosphere of Argentina’s most famous derby but on Sunday evening they locked horns from the sidelines of the Monumental.
After a title winning debut season for Uruguayan giants Nacional, Gallardo took his first job in Argentinian football back in June to return to the club he made over 250 appearances during three spells. The impact was immediate. Despite having inherited Ramon Diaz’s title winning side, el Muñeco has still managed to vastly improve los Millonarios in a short space of time. Going into the game, River sat top of the table, unbeaten in nine and having scored 21 goals and conceded just 5. Their imperious form was accompanied by a style and swagger that perfectly fitted with River’s tradition of ‘Ganar, Gustar y Golear’ (Win, enjoy and thrash) which had been missing for some time.
Arruabarrena, also coming off a spell in charge of Nacional, has been at the helm for an even shorter period of time that his counterpart Gallardo having taken charge of Boca at the end of August, replacing Carlos Bianchi four games into the season. Nevertheless, el Vasco has made a notable difference with three wins, one draw and one loss in the league and a Copa Sudamericana win against Rosario Central but certainly faces a tricky task in rejuvenating a Boca side in flux.
Going into the game River were clear favourites, especially given that they had not lost at home since February, and with the likes of Teo Gutierrez, Rodrgio Mora and Leonardo Pisculichi in fine form, it looked set to be a tough challenge for Arruabarrena’s new look Boca. However, injury to impressive young midfield lynchpin Matias Kranevitter and a draws against Arsenal and Lanus meant River were clearly not firing on all cylinders and, though Boca had their own defensive injury worries, the torrential rain would hamper River’s passing game and ensure a more even contest, giving Boca a faint trace of hope.
As soon as the game kicked off it became immediately apparent that the state of the pitch would make any semblance of a normal football match almost impossible. Both sides manfully soldiered on but had to resort to slinging long balls forward and hope for set piece opportunities.
And unsurprisingly it was a dead ball situation that broke the deadlock when, after 22 minutes played, young centre back Lisandro Magallan swept home Federico Carrizo’s free kick to give Boca the lead. Only starting due to injuries to Cata Diaz and Juan Forlin, it was the defender’s first goal for the senior side.
The goal stung River into action and Gabriel Mercado thumped a header against the post and Ramiro Funes Mori forced Agustin Orion into a decent save at the back post shortly after.
Then the big controversy came. Another free kick from Leonardo Ponzio was sent into the mixer and was half cleared to Ariel Rojas whose well struck volley was awkwardly blocked by Fernando Gago. The referee blew his whistle, gave the penalty for a handball and brandished a red card for a gobsmacked Gago. Boca were furious and rightly so as the ball was shown to have come off Gago’s head then foot as he stooped to block the ball.
Despite their protestations, Gago went for an early bath – although given the conditions, perhaps that is not an entirely accurate phrase – and Rodrigo Mora stepped up to take the penalty. The Uruguayan striker Mora has been rejuvenated under Gallardo but ballooned his attempt way over the crossbar. Justice was done but Boca would have to weather the storm for the remaining 50 minutes with ten men.
River did have the ball in the back of the net on the cusp of half time when Carlos Sanchez thought he had equalised only for Vigliano to make his second gaff and chalk off the goal after he wrongly deemed Teo Gutierrez to have been offside in the build-up.
As the half time whistle went, Boca were a goal up but a man down and rightly aggrieved while River had to reflect on missed opportunities and their own injustice.
Determined not to lose their unbeaten record, River came flying out the blocks at the restart as substitute Lucas Boye missed a decent chance and then, quite literally, when Mercado dangerously lunged into Insua and was lucky not to receive his marching orders.
River were on the front foot and Mora’s header was well kept out by Orion who tipped the effort round the post. Still trailing with 15 minutes to go, Gallardo reshuffled his pack with Augusto Solari and German Pezzella introduced for Pisculichi and Mora, his decision justified almost immediately as two minutes later River were level.
A long Funes Mori ball forward was met by the head of substitute defender Pezzella who then stabbed home the rebound after a fumble Orion. It was a cruel blow for Orion who had up until that moment had probably been the best player on the pitch but yet his one error had drawn the tie level.
Both sides went looking for the win as the game entered the final ten minutes and the rain finally began to cease. River goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero was almost left red faced as a ball bounced over his head but he smothered the ball with Andres Chavez bearing down on him. And things got nervier for the hosts as they had Funes Mori sent off for a clumsy lunging scissor challenge on Cesar Meli.
In the dying embers of the game both teams had golden opportunities to win it right at the death. Firstly, Chavez who had worked diligently all game, found himself clean through but Barovero got the slightest touch to take the pace of his shot and divert narrowly wide of the post. Then 18-year-old Boye twice had the chance to write his name into River folklore deep in stoppage time but his speculative volley and then unmarked header were well off target and the game finished 1-1.
A point a piece was probably a fair result for such a ridiculous, albeit memorable, game which in truth should never have gone ahead in the first place and was ultimately marred by the rain and the referee Vigliano. Both sides will have felt they could have won it but won’t be too dissatisfied with the outcome. For River, they remain unbeaten and are still two points clear at the top of the table but will need to return to winning ways quickly after a sobering couple of weeks. Meanwhile Boca will see it as another sign of the continued improvement and strength of character, with good showings from their young summer recruits Chavez, Calleri, Carrizo and Meli.
At the half way stage of the season, River are still the team to beat and most expect them to retain their title while Boca are still clearly a work in progress. Nevertheless, with two exciting young managers in charge, both sets of fans have plenty of reasons to be positive about what the future holds for these two institutions of Argentinian football.