Friday, June 14, 2024

SPORTS | 11-05-2023 20:43

Superclásico controversy can’t detract from Boca’s failings

Put aside the penalty controversy and it’s clear Boca are still not up to the task when facing River – lots for Jorge Almirón to ponder in the weeks and months ahead.

There are few positives to losing Internet and television service for the best part of a week, particularly when one is a writer and depends on said services for their livelihood. One upside of the blackout in this corner of Villa Crespo, however, was undeniable: missing out on the hysteria and mutual recriminations which doubtlessly have dominated the airwaves following one of the more controversial Superclásicos in recent years.

Sunday's match appeared to be meandering towards a somewhat foreseeable stalemate as it entered the final minutes in the Monumental. Predictably, Martín Demichelis kept his River Plate troops on the front foot throughout his derby debut, but they found little joy against a resolute Boca Juniors side which looked more than happy to play for a point in Jorge Almirón's own introduction to this most illustrious of fixtures.

Any concern that the game would end without incident was then extinguished during a chaotic injury time period. Agustín Sandez was deemed to have made just enough contact on Pablo Solari during his rather clumsy lunge for the ball to convince Darío Herrera to point to the spot, and Miguel Borja's penalty flew into the net to give River Plate the lead. That was the cue for all hell to break loose: everyone even remotely connected to the Superclásico subsequently appeared in a mass on-pitch brawl that took a full 15 minutes to quell. If Boca had any hope of reverting the scoreline before the final whistle, it took a heavy blow once the madness was over, as three Xeneize players were shown the red card to leave the visitors with just eight to play out the final, subdued seconds of the match.

Referee Herrera and VAR custodian Silvio Trucco were both excused from duties this coming weekend for their part in those unsavoury scenes, which prompted a tiresome back and forth from both sides of the great divide over who was most in the wrong. To be honest, they might be grateful for the break: aside from the penalty controversy River and Boca combined to commit no fewer than 39 fouls over the course of the game, while Herrera also showed a grand total of nine yellow cards and six reds as proceedings spiralled out of control (along with the Boca trio, Agustín Palavecino and River substitutes Ezequiel Centurión and Elías Gómez were also expelled). And while Demichelis kept a low profile during those final minutes of madness, he could not help finding himself in the headlines later after choosing to focus on Nicolás Figal's description of the Monumental as the “Chicken coop”; suggesting that the Xeneize defender suffered from a “degree of inferiority” and doing little to calm the storm that managed to push inflation and election off the front page for 48 hours.

One could go on and on about the many repercussions, but perhaps it is best to stay within the confines of the pitch. River had more to lose going into Sunday, having suffered two bruising Copa Libertadores defeats which raised questions over their new coach's mettle in big-game situations. But justly or otherwise they came away with the result to match an intense if not exactly scintillating performance, adding in the process to their lead at the Liga Profesional de Fútbol summit, which even at this early stage is starting to look unassailable. Boca, meanwhile, saw the goodwill garnered by a string of recent positive results fade away with their timid (until the final minutes) display in the Monumental and must now stake everything on a successful Libertadores campaign to compensate for their failure to defend the Liga title.

Perhaps the most damning outcome from Sunday is that even with Marcelo Gallardo now just a memory in Núñez, the Xeneize were still not up to the task of taking on their great rivals without retreating into their shell, and that is just one of the key dilemmas Almirón must face up to if he wishes to enjoy better Superclásico fortunes than almost all of his predecessors across the past decade.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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