Treading new ground

After falling out with River Plate over the appalling pitch surface for the recent World Cup qualifier at home to Colombia, the AFA have submitted a request to FIFA that Rosario Central’s stadium, El Gigante Del Arroyito, be accredited as an alternative venue. It’s possible the qualifier against Brazil could be played there if the OK is given in time. Meanwhile, this weekend sees another important mark in Argentine football: for the first time, a woman will referee a match in the second flight, the Nacional B.

Prior to the 1-0 win over Colombia, courtesy of ‘Cata‘ Díaz’s goal from a corner, Diego Maradona compared the playing surface unfavourably with the pockmarked pitches he played on as a child in Villa Fiorito. Although the state of the pitch seemed to be largely forgotten about in the aftermath of the match, even though to my mind it provided at least some explanation for Argentina’s poor performance, AFA President Julio Grondona wants to do something about it.

After the match, centre back Martín Demichelis commented, ‘for me it’s easy because I can kick the thing into the stands if I want, but to see [Lionel] Messi with [the ball] and not able to show 100% of what he’s capable of… it’s sad.’ Brazil don’t have happy memories of the alternative Grondona is now investigating.

Coincidentally, it was 31 years ago today, during the 1978 World Cup, that Argentina met Brazil in El Gigante in the second match of the second round group stage, and drew 0-0 in front of an incredibly partisan crowd. Argentina’s next match there was the infamous 6-0 drubbing of Peru, already knowing that four goals or more would put them through at Brazil’s expense.

Accusations that that match was fiddled continue, although solid evidence is hard to come by, but one thing no-one disputes is that Argentina’s matches in El Gigante during that World Cup, with local hero Mario Kempes up front, saw arguably the most intimidating atmospheres in the stands ever seen at international level.

Trying to keep her cool in a less high-pressure situation on Saturday will be Estela Mary Alvarez de Olivera, 31 years old, who hails from Oberá in Misiones Province (the bit of north-eastern Argentina sandwiched between Brazil and Paraguay). She’s taken charge of matches Argentino A before, but this weekend will become the first woman ever to referee at second division level in Argentina, when she officiates the match between San Martín de San Juan, who are safe with nothing to play for, and C.A.I., who are doomed to the relegation playoffs already.

In fully-affiliated AFA matches, Florencia Romano of Tucumán has refereed in Primera D, but that’s the closest anyone’s previously got to the top two flights. A good performance on Saturday followed by a few more, and Alvarez de Olivera could be given the chance to referee in the top flight. She’s got one thing going for her authority-wise: one of her brothers, Baldomero Alvarez de Olivera, is the head of the local government in Avellaneda.

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