During the 2009 Clausura, Boca Juniors and River Plate met at La Bombonera in El Superclasico . That day, Martin Palermo opened the scoring before Marcelo Gallardo equalized with a brilliant free kick. Yesterday, the opposite took place, as Palermo was the one who rescued Boca after Gallardo had put River ahead through a first-half free kick at El Monumental in Nunez.
The match was far from a well-played spectacle, but it featured plenty of excitement and controversy.
Diego Buonanotte put Nico Domingo through on goal on six minutes, but he fired wide of the target. Matias Abelairas then fired just over from long range, as River created more of the earlier chances.
Much had been made prior to the match by the Argentine press about the importance of the aging stars and club idols on both sides. For River, captain Marcelo Gallardo, Ariel Ortega, and Matias Almeyda are all over 33, but with long and storied histories at the club.
For Boca, Roberto “El Pato” Abbondanzieri in goal, Juan Roman Riquelme, Hugo Ibarra, and Martin Palermo are all over 30 and each will go down as one of the biggest legends in the history of the club. Although still 28, Sebastian Battaglia is tied with Guillermo Barras Schellotto for most titles won for Boca with 16.
Not surprisingly, “los grandes” for both teams were involved in all the key moments of the match.
Just before 24 minutes, Ariel Ortega chipped a ball for Buonanotte to run onto, and “El Enano” was taken down in the box by a clumsy challenge from Monzon. Although the foul was clear-cut, replays showed that Buonanotte had used his hand to help push the ball past his Olympic teammate.
The controversy was the first of a few poor decisions from Saúl Laverni, who had an awful day refereeing.
Ortega took the responsibility for River, but his spot kick was saved spectacularly from Abbondanzieri. Luckily for Laverni, his decision had not punished Boca.
“El Pato” had saved Boca once, but unfortunately for Coco Basile, he could not pull off the magic four minutes later. Buonanotte drew another foul, this time from Gabriel Paletta on the left wing. The River captain Gallardo stepped up and curled a beautiful right-footed shot over the wall. The goal was almost identical to the free kick he scored in the spring at La Bombonera.
After gaining the advantage, River looked to double it, but Abelairas was denied by Abbondanzieri at the near post, keeping Boca in the game going into half time.
After the break, Basile brought on Chilean international Gary Medel for Hugo Ibarra at right back, and the former Universidad Catolica man put in quite an impressive shift.
Martin Palermo, ineffective and deprived of service in the first half, removed a mask he had been wearing to protect a broken nose he suffered while playing for Argentina earlier this month, and then aggravated last week against Tigre.
Just one minute into the second half, Cristian Villagra received a second yellow card for a harsh challenge on Nicolas Gaitan around midfield, reducing Los Millonarios to ten men for the rest of the match, and forcing Matias Almeyda to drop back in defense.
Boca had enjoyed the man advantage for only four minutes when more controversy occurred. Paraguayan international and former River Plate defender Julio Cesar Cacares was sent off for what appeared to be a slap to the face of Ariel Ortega.
Upon further review, however, it was clear that Cacares had weakly struck El Burrito in the chest, but the former Argentina number ten grabbed his face and fell to the ground.
Ortega’s play acting is something that has followed him his whole career, but unlike his attempted dive back in the 1998 World Cup against Holland, Ortega’s feint had fooled the referee, and now both teams were down to ten men.
Back at equal numbers, Boca took the initiative, and Nicolas Gaitan darted past four defenders before he saw his left-footed shot saved well from Daniel Vega, who had regained his starting place under new coach Leonardo Astrada, after falling out of favor under Nestor Gorosito.
Astrada’s decision to start Vega over Nicolas Navarro had been important after Vega had pulled off a string of fine saves to hold Hurucan in the previous match for River. Vega looked more than up to the task again in the Superclasico , and was at full stretch to deny a previously invisible Riquelme on 58 minutes.
Even in his scintillating form, Vega was helpless to stop Boca from equalizing five minutes later. Gaitan sent a low ball into Riquelme, whose back heel rolled into the path of Martin Palermo, and “San Palermo” scored yet again against River Plate, this time with a low effort into the corner.
Boca went close through a Riquelme free kick, and then Abelairas struck the post from Buonanotte’s lay off, but the scores remained level through 75 minutes.
The final few minutes saw each team strive for an equalizer, but it was Boca who went closest. Riquelme tried to beat Vega at his near post from a free kick, but the River No. 1 got down well to deprive Boca’s No. 10 of a winner seven minutes from time.
Although the result is fair for both teams, the poor refereeing overshadowed what was otherwise an entertaining match. Matias Almeyda said afterward that the tie was fair, but River could have easily been three up had they taken their chances in the first half, a sentiment echoed by coach Astrada.
Pitu Abilairas, who struck the post in the second half, said, "I won't be able to sleep...I had a chance to make the difference, but failed..."
Boca will feel robbed; especially considering Cacares’ incident with Ortega, and it could have been worse had Abbondanzieri not saved the penalty in the first half.
Boca now find themselves six points back from leaders Colon, and they will look to get back to their winning ways in La Bombonera against Chacarita on Thursday. They can take many positives from the match, despite the harsh treatment they received from Laverni.
Nicolas Gaitan has hit a good run of form after his two goals against Tigre last week. Although he did not get on the score sheet in Nunez, he was a threat throughout and involved in the build-up to the goal. Abbondanzieri put another strong performance in what has been his best tournament in recent history.
Gary Medel looked good at right back, a position he plays for Chile at times, which could come in handy as Ibarra is now closer to 40 than 30. Defensive frailties will continue to be an issue, particularly from set pieces, something Basile will be dreading as the tournament drags on.
River will be pleased to have at least gained a point, but they still find themselves in 16th place. Astrada must be worried about some of his veterans, as neither Gallardo nor Ortega are fit enough to last the full 90 minutes in their current state.
There was a definite drop-off in creative play when both were withdrawn during the second half, and with Buonanotte possibly leaving the club in the January transfer window, there could be selection issues in the attacking third of the pitch.