Once upon a time… Argentina was desperate victory against Peru to even flirt with the possibility of a World Cup back in 2009. After a disasterous World Cup qualifiers, Diego Maradona’s Argentina knew that the game against Peru was crucial for his team. Anything but a win would not only be a major setback in the qualifiers but yet another emberassing result in the qualifiers. Meanwhile, Peru had nothing to lose coming into this game but fantazised with the idea of being a villan. On that rainy night in Buenos Aires, Argentina vs Peru faced off in one of the most memorable games in recent history for the Albiceleste.
Maradona had made various changes to the lineup coming into the match. One of the most notable starters was a young Gonzalo Higuain who had been making noise with Real Madrid and finally had his chance with the national team. On the bench was 35-year-old Martin Palermo. One of the best strikers in Argentina during his time with Boca Juniors who had seemingly been forgotten from the national team in recent years. Maradona had claimed that Palermo’s excellent club form had earned him a recall to the national team though not many people thought he would get any minutes over Messi, Higuain, Tevez and Aguero.
Argentina came out flying from the gate with domination of the ball and an active Di Maria on the left. A young Lionel Messi was also able to connect beatifully with Pablo Aimar but they were unable to create true danger. The hosts had their first clear chance on the 18th minute when Higuain was unable to finish a cross by Di Maria from close range (guess some things never change).
Peru was able to defend to near perfection during the entire first half as the score was still tied at 0-0 to end the half. Though they didn’t produce much offensively, Peru was able to hold their ground against an attacking Argentina side. The visitors knew that a tie would be sufficient to them and that the longer the game went on, the more anxious Argentina would get and be more prone to defensive mistakes.
Maradona decided to put in Martin Palermo for the second half knowing that the team needed a critical finisher inside the box. His offensive priorities almost cost them dearly in the first few minutes of the second half as Peru came out on the offensive. Vargas struck a shot from 30 yards out that was saved by Sergio Romero with difficulty.
A couple of minutes later, it was Argentina who opened the scoring with an excellent finish by Gonzalo Higuain. It was again the Messi-Aimar combination that started the play. They caught Peru flatfooted and Aimar found Higuain perfectly behind the defensive line and Higuain did not miss. 1-0 Argentina and the Monumental was finally able to breathe.
In the 57th minute, Peru had a great chance to tie the score but Romero was quick off his line and Solano’s shot was blocked by Insua. Despite screams for a penalty, the referee viewed the play differently and did not call the foul.
Peru continued to dominate the ball alot better than they did in the first half and began to worry Maradona and the Argentine bench. Maradona was forced to make defensive substitutions to maintain their 1-0 lead leading into the dying moments of the game. Despite creating some chances, Peru were unable to tie the game and their minutes were limited.
In the 44th minute, Peru took advantage of Argentina’s inability to clear the ball and scored the game tying goal which silenced the Monumental. Peru’s Rengifo found himself wide open between the 6-yard-box and the penalty mark and headered the ball in with ease. Argentina’s lack of concentration and poor man marking cost them a crucial goal. As the rain began to pour in a ridiculous amount, Maradona’s men found themselves needing a last minute miracle to save their aspirations.
As expected, the entire side went on a full out attack. The referee awarded just two minutes of added time and just as the clock hit 47th minute, Argentina got a corner kick. Insua’s corner kick was deflected but met by Di Maria in the far post who then sent in a cross that was met by Insua. Without hesitating, he shot the ball on the ground to the far post hoping that someone in white and light blue would deflect it in.
His shot took a deflection right in front of goal and it landed right in front of Palermo himself. Unmarked and just feet away from goal, Palermo did not miss from there and slotted the ball home for a stoppage time miracle of a goal. The veteran ran to the corner flag and took off his jersey despite the heavy rain to celebrate with the fans. The forgotten man for the national team had given them a vital goal to keep their dreams alive.
Maradona would end up taking Palermo to the World Cup as a way of gratitude for his iconic goal against Peru. In the final game of the group stage, Palermo finally got his World Cup goal as he scored against Greece. But even the great Palermo wouldnt be able to rescue Argentina in their humiliating defeat against Germany in the quarterfinals.
Argentina and Peru face off today in a similar situation. Both teams are desperate for a victory today to keep their World Cup dreams alive. But without Martin Palermo in the lineup, can they do it?