Vélez Sarsfield 1 (Rescaldani 54′) drew with San Lorenzo 1 (Navarro 79′) at Estadio José Amalfitani, crowd ~20,000, Primera División, 6 April 2013.
“San Lorenzo, San Lorenzo,
Hay que risa que me das,
Te conocen por El Papa,
No por ser campeón mundial.”
Tap that into Google Translate if you want a choppy translation, but even with my limited level of Spanish, this little cantito from Vélez brought a sonrisa to my face. Sick of the Pope-mania that has gripped Buenos Aires since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to the papacy a month ago, the home fans were in an uncharitable mood for the visit of San Lorenzo, a club with an suitably religious name for their most famous card-carrying hincha, Pope Francis. After 105 years as one of Argentina’s cinco clubes grandes, a puff of white smoke from a Vatican chimney has reduced San Lorenzo’s identity to merely ‘the Pope’s team’ – or, for Lord of the Rings nerds, Aragorn’s club. But then again, if the worst thing opposition fans taunt you with is your association with His Holiness, then you must be travelling okay.
While San Lorenzo can boast God’s earthly representative in their corner, they didn’t have too many representatives in Liniers this weekend for their clash with Vélez Sarsfield, after the AFA banned visiting supporters in response to crowd violence at the pair’s last meeting. The boisterous home hinchada was doing their best to make up for their rivals’ absence, however. Thousands of till rolls were lobbed onto the pitch pre-game at visiting keeper Matías Ibáñez, who proceeded to command a makeshift platoon of cleaners made up of ball boys, ground staff, referees and press photographers in the cleanup effort. The hosts were desperate to kickstart a slow opening to their Clausura campaign, having secured the Apertura title before Christmas. Appropriately for his role as pantomime villain, Ibáñez was dressed in black, and as play kicked off the home end took joy in pelting the custodian with the paper missiles. He refused to relent in the face of the bombardment, which continued throughout a first half where Vélez stretched – but failed to break – a resolute San Lorenzo.
This hostility wasn’t confined to the away team. One man located about one metre away from me in the 60-peso populares – the standing terrace where the hinchada also congregate, behind the goals – unleashed a jarring tirade on Vélez winger Jonathan Copete, a 25-year-old black Colombian. Copete, admittedly, had spoiled a few good attacking breaks in a frustrating first stanza but no amount of turnovers warrants criticism with a racial undertone. “Negro, alla! Hijo de puta,” muttered Copete’s detractor, who disturbingly, spat out his prehistoric insults in front of his teenage son and a terrace that didn’t seem to bat an eyelid. Incidents like this put the Luis Suarez racism row into perspective for a Western audience: out-dated race labels continue to be used widely in South American football. Just ask Copete, or any follower of Boca who is venomously told to return to their family in Bolivia by rival fans on a weekly basis.
For the second term, I moved away from my uneducated first-half neighbour to take the chance to watch the game from a truly Argentinian vantage point: hanging from the chicken-wire fence at the front of the terrace. When San Lorenzo’s talismanic No.7 – immaculately coiffed forward Julio Buffarini – delivered a corner to a shower of spit, gum and till rolls a couple of feet from where I was perched, I immediately regretted my decision. Tensions were eased minutes later, though, when Rescaldani gave Vélez a hard earned lead. The locals celebrated by scaling the fence, while this portly Australian was happy to keep his feet on the ground.
Referee Carlos Maglio appeared intent on offering San Lorenzo some divine intervention in the wash up, however, by awarding the visitors a penalty. It was hard to argue with Maglio’s decision – Vélez’s Uruguayan keeper Sebastián Sosa dived clumsily into the legs of the runaway San Lorenzo attacker, and was lucky to escape with only a yellow card – but nothing incenses an Argentinian crowd like a referee having the temerity to rule in favour of the opposition. When the magnificently named Denis Stracqualursi blazed the spot kick over the bar, the locals responded with more fervour than when their own mob netted the opener five minutes earlier.
Sosa got away with the penalty, but his second error was far more glaring. Leandro Navarro – who was substituted for Denis, who was hooked after his penalty shocker – floated in an innocuous free kick from 40 metres out. My view was obfuscated by the collection of banners lining the fence, but when I saw Sosa make no effort to collect the ball, I assumed Navarro’s dinky delivery sailed wide of the goal. But then the singing stopped, and I noticed the 100-or-so San Lorenzo fans – dressed in civvies, who must have been corporate partners or some such – dancing down the terrace at the far end of the ground. Sosa was bending down to collect the ball from the back of the net. San Lorenzo – apparently – had equalised. How the goalie missed such a limp pie floater was anyone’s guess. It was the only time the local hinchas shut up all day.
The game finished 1-all and the frustration was palpable, especially when the Policia Federal – as well armed and scary looking as ever – decided to hold back the Vélez fans for 20 minutes after the final whistle. A skinny, older gentleman argued breathlessly that the precaution was unnecessary considering there were no away fans permitted (hard to fault his logic, really). But it seemed like one of those days where absolutely nothing was going their way. Maybe San Lorenzo just had God on their side … perhaps Francisco put in a call for them.