Needing a three-goal win against a team they’d never previously beaten in three encounters – the most recent of which was just three days ago – Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata left it oh so late but, in the last twenty minutes, they struck three times – the last two goals coming with only nine men on the pitch – to leave Atlético Rafaela floored. Due to the ‘sporting advantage’ enjoyed by the incumbent teams in Primera A, a 3-3 aggregate draw means Gimnasia retain their place in the top flight.
The first half was far from the best football either side had seen all season, and at the break the match was still 0-0. With this score, Rafaela had a comfortable lead to take into the final quarter of the two-legged tie, and it was difficult to see precisely where any Gimnasia breakthrough was going to come from. The midway point arrived in the second half, and still El Lobo couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.
By that point both teams had had a man sent off – Esteban Gil saw red for Rafaela for trying to waste time, and Esteban González followed him off the pitch for Gimnasia after suggesting a little too forcefully that he get on with it. Then, in the 72nd minute, Diego Alonso gave the hosts some hope, arriving in the Rafaela box to stab home after the ball had pinged around a bit. It was slim hope, but still hope to cling to.
It didn’t seem to be making a difference though. As the minutes flew by Roberto Sosa, a second half substitute whose experience should have taught him to keep a cool head, decided it was all over and pushed an opponent out of frustration. He too was sent off, and it was now the nine men of Gimnasia against Rafaela’s ten.
The nine, incredibly, turned the tables. In the 89th minute tiny little Franco Niell, the former Colón and D.C. United striker, headed in a second goal for Gimnasia to bring them agonisingly close. They could almost taste salvation now, and having spent the entire second half throwing caution to the wind in desperate search of the goals they needed, the momentum was now with them.
Two minutes later, Niell earned himself a permanent place in Gimnasia’s history books with a second header to put the hosts 3-0 up on the day and, more importantly, clinch the tie with a 3-3 aggregate draw after two more minutes of stoppage time had been safely negotiated. For Gimnasia, fiesta, but for Rafaela… well, there’s always next year.
I’ll link to a goal video in a separate post – none are online as of the now.