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Boca comes back to draw River Plate
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Hubris, it turns out, is a giant inflatable pig in a blue and yellow shirt. When, at half-time, River Plate fans in the popular released their huge balloon so it floated, restrained by long ropes, in front of the Boca Juniors support, their team was comfortable in a 1-0 lead.
The reference was clear – Boca fans are mocked as puercas (pigs) by River because the area of the river where its stadium is located supposedly smells – but the pig enhanced its part, twisting to point its immaculately rendered curly tail at the Boca fans before shaking provocatively. This was an inflatable pig with the hips of Shakira.
Although Boca was rather better in the second half than it had been in the first, River went on to double its lead but it capitulated in the final minutes, conceding twice in the final quarter hour to give Boca an improbable 2-2 draw. As Walter Erviti jabbed home the injury-time equalizer, the home part of the stadium at last fell silent, a day they had anticipated for so long, a day that had seemed to be going their way, ending in disappointment and anti-climax. The weather responded in kind, spring sunshine giving way to a clouded sky and spots of drizzle.
The game was more about the anxiety of attrition than the excitement of a fluent contest. But then the Superclasico is more about the spectacle more than the match. The obsessive build-up gives the feel of a final. Ask whether a game between teams who started the day ninth and fifth in the table deserves such hype and the response, from players, fans and journalists, is one of bemusement. In a sense the question is wrongly framed: the real issue is what ludicrous mismanagement has led two teams who generate such hype, who have such large and devoted followings, to be so far from the pinnacle of the game.
Argentinian football always gives the impression that its clasicos and the Superclasico are almost of more significance than winning the championship – and that, inevitably, heightens tensions. Security, understandably, is tight. Amid all the checkpoints on the way in – I was searched three times on the brief walk from Figueiroa Alcorta to the stadium – is a new one: away fans had to give their thumbprints, part of the Kirchner government’s new craze for tracking citizens that has led to preposterous queues at immigration. Not that you can blame the authorities for being concerned: this is the most combustible fixture in a country in which around 150 people have been killed in fan-related violence in the past 30 years. So serious is the risk of injury that an enterprising law firm handed out flyers outside the ground offering help to fans injured at stadiums.
Police, incongruously clustered on corners beneath the jacarandas, clutch wooden batons, five feet long and a couple of inches in diameter. Walking in with the Boca fans, passing Jonathan’s café, a renowned haunt of River legends, it all seems oddly quiet, a gentle breeze stirring the blossom. But every now and again, explosions echo through the leafy streets: they’re almost certainly firecrackers but the possibility lurks that they could be gunshots and you listen anxiously for the crackle of police radios and the sudden dash of officers in riot gear that would signal serious trouble.
This game, the first derby since River’s return from the wilderness of Nacional B, had taken on an almost mythic status. There has never been a longer gap between Superclasicos than between the 227th and this, the 228th, but after 17 months of waiting it took just 90 seconds for the first goal. The smoke from the flares was still clearing, the stewards still backing the tons of tickertape into trashbags, when River won a free-kick 40 yards out on its left. Leonardo Ponzio, rather than bending a ball to the back post, whipped it to the near and an awkward bounce defeated the Boca keeper Agustin Orion’s leaden-footed efforts to scramble across goal.
With Orion panicking every time a ball was slung into the box and Boca struggling to find any kind of fluency, River dominated. Oddly, though, it was that spell that showed up its limitations. With a packed stadium at fever pitch and Boca looking shaky, that should have been the time to kill the game; as it was, the match descended rapidly into scrappiness and towards the end of the first half there were signs that the aerial power of Santiago Silva and Lucas Viatri could unsettle River.
But when, 25 minutes into the second half, Rodrigo Mora ran on to a slipped pass from Carlos Sanchez, rounded Orion and squeezed his finish in from a tight angle, the game seemed won. Boca, after four games without a win, looked flat; River seemed rampant. The opportunity to taunt Boca’s fans, who had fastened large letter Bs to the fences at the front of their section in mockery of River’s season in the second flight, was taken up with gusto – and in Argentina such barracking is fun for all family, from children through to pensioners. Just in front of the press box, a teenaged girl helped a grey-haired man clamber onto a barrier to give him a better vantage point to wave his hand dismissively at the Boca fans.
That there were still 20 minutes to play seemed almost to have been forgotten. And, with 14 minutes left, came the break Boca needed. German Pezzela, the River centre-back, tugged Siva in the box; it wasn’t much – Rolando Schiavi had got away with something very similar in the first half – but the referee Pablo Lunati decided it was enough to give a penalty. Silva slammed it in. Still Boca didn’t mount the sort of pressure that might have been expected; still River continued to threaten. In injury-time, David Trezeguet, rather more cumbersome than in his Juventus peak but a classy performer nonetheless, saw a volley blocked. Boca broke. Leandro Somoza charged through the middle, held the ball up intelligently, then laid it right to Leandro Paredes. He crossed, Silva flicked on and Erviti, making the most of a moment of hesitation from Marcelo Barovero touched in the equalizer.
Unthinkably, Boca had a draw and the huge inflatable became in an instant less an insult than evidence that, occasionally, pigs do fly.
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