The AFA’s incompetence in organising a playoff system that might have either rendered the final match meaningless, or ensured that one team would go into it without any motivation to win, has been papered over by Boca Juniors, who on Saturday evening beat San Lorenzo de Almagro 3-1 in Racing’s stadium. One (very) depressing point: one player from each side was hospitalised after an absolutely horrendous clash 19 minutes in when young Boca defender Juan Forlín appeared to swallow his tongue.
That coming together of bodies was almost the first real action of the match. Néstor Silvera had just missed out on opening the scoring for San Lorenzo with a header two minutes previously when all of the 20,000 fans, as well as both benches, took a sharp inward breath. Silvera himself was challenging Juan Forlín, one of Boca’s rising stars at centre back, for a long ball forward, and the two collided.
Both rolled to the ground, clearly hurt. TV cameras immediately went in close on Forlín, who’d gone an unearthly shade of blue and was shaking. Within seconds, staff from both benches were sprinting onto the pitch almost before the referee could stop the match. The physio who reached Forlín first immediately put his fingers in the defender’s mouth, seemingly in an effort to prevent the youngster from swallowing his tongue.
The match was held up for eight minutes whilst the players were removed from the pitch on stretchers – Forlín, who didn’t appear to be concious when he left the field of play, will be kept in hospital overnight as a precaution after suffering cranial trauma, whilst Silvera has apparently already been discharged.
The match restarted in the 27th minute, and just a few minutes later Boca’s Paraguayan full back was committing the near cardinal sin of running in and striking a free kick which Juan Román Riquelme had been preparing himself to take. It went a long way wide but, at least, the football was centre stage again. There were seven additional minutes at the end of the first half, and in the third of those, Lucas Viatri gave Boca the lead with a good shot after he’d anticipated the flight of a Riquelme free kick better than his markers.
In with the lead at half time, there was some confusion about how Boca would approach the second half. It hadn’t escaped everyone’s notice that a draw might actually have been a better result for them – with a draw, Tigre would have been eliminated from the title running and would have no motivation going into the last game, which would allow Boca to steamroller them to take the title on goal difference.
As it was, though, Boca went for the win, even though that means Tigre, with a win of their own on Tuesday night, could themselves take the title. They didn’t have it all their own way. The match remained tight after the break and San Lorenzo got back on level terms through Santiago Solari with half an hour remaining. Solari’s first-time shot after a pass from Juan Carlos Menseguez was a daisy-cutter and hit straight at Boca ‘keeper Javier García, who gifted El Cuervo the equaliser by spilling the ball into the net.
Boca’s cause didn’t appear to be improving when Luciano Figueroa was withdrawn, soon after the goal, and replaced with Rodrigo Palacio. Maybe the Xeneize really were playing for the draw? (Alright, alright, I’m joking.) Soon after that, Riquelme fouled Juan Manuel Torres, and picked up a booking which will see him suspended for Tuesday’s final match against Tigre. With fourteen minutes of the ninety left, it was Palacio who put Boca back ahead.
The goal came at the end of a lovely move from the azul y oro, when Jesús Dátolo hit a cross-field pass to Riquelme, who brought the ball down first time into Palacio’s path, leaving him with a simple finish. Boca led by one goal, and were helped minutes later when San Lorenzo defender Gastón Aguirre saw red for bringing down Palacio and seeing his second yellow card as a result.
There was also time for San Lorenzo striker Gonzalo Bergessio to show that he perhaps resembles Wayne Rooney in more than just his gutsy style of play and goalscoring ability, by getting himself sent off for positively screaming in the face of referee Héctor Baldassi after disagreeing with a decision the official made. Two minutes into stoppage time, Cristian Chávez (not to be confused for the player of the same name with San Lorenzo) made it 3-1 to Boca with a powerful, low left-footer from outside the box.
The final score puts Boca ahead of San Lorenzo on goal difference. This means that a draw on Tuesday in Avellaneda will be enough for them to take the title. San Lorenzo, by contrast, cannot now win the championship. They have a goal difference of zero, compared with Tigre’s -1 and Boca’s +2, but crucially, if Boca’s goal difference gets dragged down below San Lorenzo’s, it’ll be because Tigre are scoring. A Tigre win by one goal would still see Boca take the title. If the Victoria side win by two or more, they’ll lift the trophy.
The aftermath of the Silvera – Forlín collission (not recommended viewing for the faint-hearted):
The goals (and a few near misses) – San Lorenzo de Almagro 1 – 3 Boca Juniors, Primera A Torneo Apertura 2008 title playoff: