Saturday saw two clásicos in Primera A. Estudiantes beat Gimnasia ‘away’ in the Estadio Municipal de La Plata, Ezequiel Maggiolo scoring twice either side of Federico Domínguez’s equaliser, and both sides having two men sent off. But if you think that makes a front page-worthy match in Argentina, think again. Because Racing took the lead against Boca in La Bombonera, and played better than their opponents for a large part of the match – but were undone by a goal that shouldn’t have been allowed, and a winner from a debutant. With almost the last kick of the match. FIve minutes into stoppage time.
The match was just fourteen minutes old when Reinaldo Navia silenced the Boca faithful with a header from a Maxi Moralez cross that left Boca’s backup goalkeeper, Pablo Migliore, without a chance. Boca’s side consisted entirely of players who’d normally be competing for a place on the bench, if that – only Pablo Ledesma and Neri Cardozo could really claim to have started with any regularity for the club before. That was a surprise, because after the previous weekend’s defeat to Estudiantes, followed with the messy 2-2 draw with Atlas in the Copa Libertadores in midweek, Boca needed to get back up and running.
They couldn’t. After taking the lead, Racing – as much to their own surprise, surely, as to everyone else’s – just got better. Full backs José Shaffer and Gabriel Mercado hared forwards and gave real width to the attack of a side determined to get a better result than the ones they’ve been settling for all season. Boca’s young guns, under such pressure, simply couldn’t get out of their half, even in front of their own fans.
In the second half, Boca came further forward, Racing sat slightly deeper, but still found themselves under little pressure. Leandro Gracián, understudy rather than partner on this ocassion for Juan Román Riquelme, wasn’t having his best day, whilst Neri Cardozo was making two mistakes for each good bit of play he was involved in. Racing, without ever managing the domination of the first half, actually looked comfortable. This, though, is Racing, and somehow you just knew it couldn’t last. Even Racing fans, though, must have been staring in disbelief at how cruelly this match was snatched away from them.
With 13 minutes of the 90 remaining, Pablo Ledesma sent a cross into the Racing penalty box. Boca substitute Cristán Chávez sprung Racing’s offside trap and controlled the ball perfectly – but, clearly to everyone watching, with his hand. He cut the ball back for Gabriel Paletta to stick it into the net, but it was obvious the goal wasn’t going to stand. Except that referee Carlos Maglio did allow it. Unable to comprehend how two of the three points had been taken from them, Racing were a bundle of nerves for the remainder of the game. That was most clearly manifested when, in the 85th minute, Shaffer was sent off for headbutting Boca’s young debutant Ricardo Noir.
It was Noir who was to have the last laugh, though. Paletta’s goal wasn’t to be the last moment of controversy in the match, because the referee raised a few eyebrows as he played no fewer than five minutes of time added on. It was in the last of those, with virtually the very last touch of a match his team didn’t deserve to win, that the youngster won it. Taking the ball in the area, he hit a left-footed shot across the goal. It was perfectly placed, and José Martínez Gullota in the Racing goal didn’t stand a chance.
Juan Manuel Llop has undeniably improved the play of this Racing team, but still they can’t so much as buy a win. Central play Arsenal later in the day, and if they can contrive to win, La Academia will be a long way off the place. One of Argentina’s Big Five, almost certainly, will be playing in the relegation playoffs in a couple of months. And if their luck continues this badly, it could well be a winter of discontent in El Cilindro.