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SPORTS | 22-03-2024 13:29

Javier Altamirano scare sparks solidarity on pitch

Every now and then, a timely reminder comes along that football, contrary to popular perception, is not more important than life or death.

Every now and then, a timely reminder comes along that football, contrary to popular perception, is not more important than life or death. And to the enormous credit of Estudiantes, Boca Juniors and everyone connected with Sunday's terrifying scenes, by and large the sport proved itself equal to the gravity of the situation.

Estudiantes had played less than half an hour against the Xeneize when Javier Altamirano suddenly went to the floor off the ball. It instantly became clear that the Chilean midfielder had suffered a serious issue, halting the game.

Players from both sides showed their consternation as an ambulance rushed Altamirano off the field, with several from the home team visibly in tears. It took only minutes to reach the only possible, sane decision: the match was postponed without protest, a laudable show of solidarity between rivals during a Copa de la Liga tie that was crucial for both side's future interests in the competition.

The 24-year-old was subsequently diagnosed as having suffered a brain haemorrhage which prompted his collapse and seizure on the field and, on Wednesday, Estudiantes revealed that after responding positively to initial treatment he would be transferred to a clinic that specialises in neurological conditions. His condition will of course continue to be monitored in the coming days and weeks, but he and his family will have the support and sympathies of all of Argentine football behind them as he strives to recover.

Sunday's fright cast something of a pall over the rest of the Copa weekend, the last before a fortnight's recess as Lionel Scaloni's national team takes centre-stage. The round nevertheless threw up plenty of action as well as one monumental shock.

Riestra's tiny Estadio Guillermo Laza home was the site of perhaps the most remarkable result of 2024. A select few fans saw Independiente come to town and leave with their tail tucked between their legs, as Pedro Ramírez's early goal sealed victory for the underdogs. It was just their third win of the season but the second in a row for coach Cristian Fabbiani, who came back to Bajo Flores in February with the team in dire straits.

Fabbiani was infamous during his playing career for three things: the Shrek mask he donned in goal celebrations; his turbulent but memorable stint with River; and his generous proportions around the midriff, particularly towards the end of his career – by his own admission, he reached a mammoth 122 kilos in 2010 while at All Boys. Now he is looking trimmer and more energetic than ever within the confines of the bench as he takes on the challenge of steering Riestra away from the basement.

Elsewhere Racing were left cursing their luck as they saw two goals disallowed on their way to a draw with Defensa y Justicia that leaves their play-off chances hanging by a thread. River made hard work of Gimnasia in spite of Claudio Echeverri's first senior goal, a delightful dribble and finish which showcased just why the teenager is so highly rated. But the Lobo, who had previously gone ahead, held on for 70 minutes before the dam finally burst, Leandro González Pirez and Facundo Colidio doing the damage late on at the Monumental to mark a deceptively flattering scoreline for the hosts.

The upshot is that with three games remaining of this first stage Group A is too close to cool, with River, Argentinos Juniors and Vélez Sarsfield all tied on twenty-one points and Talleres and Barracas Central hot on their heels. Group B is a little more spread out and complicated somewhat by the games in hand held by Estudiantes, Boca and Godoy Cruz, but any of the top eight teams could yet push into a play-off position in this final stretch. 

Perhaps this break comes at just the right time, then, a last gasp of air before the furious sprint begins at the end of March.   

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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