Marcelo Gallardo has beaten Boca Juniors four times out of four in cup ties since taking over at the helm of River Plate, and only a very brave gambler would bet against the coach making it six by the end of play on Tuesday evening.
A sparkling run that began all the way back in 2014 and the Copa Sudamericana semi-finals and which has gone on to inspire multiple trophy wins both at home and abroad has not just helped el Muñeco cement his reputation as one of River’s greats – it has also caused havoc at the Bombonera.
Both Rodolfo Arruabarrena and Guillermo Barros Schelotto paid the price for their failure to topple Gallardo’s Millo machine, with multiple league successes not enough to compensate for those Superclásico defeats. Now it is Gustavo Alfaro who is finding out the hard way that being top of the Superliga means next to nothing when compared to the dejection of trudging off the field with the jeers of the River faithful ringing in one’s ears.
It may come as little surprise, then, to learn that the methods employed by the Xeneize in their bid to overturn their 2-0 deficit in the Libertadores semis at the Bombonera are, to put it mildly, rather unorthodox.
Apparently convinced that their derby woes owe less to River’s enviable collective play or the uninspiring tactics of Alfaro than to supernatural matters, Boca have drafted a mystic addition to their backroom staff. Astrologer Carlos Oliva assured in an interview with TN this week that, obeying of course a margin of error he estimates at 80 per cent, “Boca will score the first goal and then the second and tie the series, and then they will hit the knockout blow.”
Oliva went to pains to explain that his work cannot be compared with that of Mexican psychic ‘Calipto’, allegedly on the books of the Millonario and who predicted the outcome of the first leg in the Monumental. “That guy really does evil,” he added. “He is a witchdoctor who likes to injure and send off players... That’s why I told the Boca fans that they have to be protected in the return match because they are being worked against. I am combatting Calipto’s negative energy, he’s saying now that the Bombonera will fall down, something like the [2015 pepper spray] incident with the Panadero Napolitano. He is trying to suspend the game through some dark energetic manipulation. We have to fight that.”
Such assertions could easily be dismissed as the empty words of a charlatan, the likes of which abound in the closedoff, intensely superstitious world of A r gent i ne football. Such curses and hexes have been common currency for decades; this writer heard once from veteran coach Miguel Ignomiriello, a former collaborator with the great Estudiantes team of the 1960s and Omar Sívori’s Argentina assistant in 1973, how one of his first acts upon taking the reins at Rosario Central was to fire the witchdoctor on the team’s payroll, ignoring the threat that he would cross over to Newell’s Old Boys and begin to harm his former employers.
But this story was given extra credence by Boca President Daniel Angelici, who all but confirmed that Oliva had been given a role in preparations for the second leg. “I believe in hard work, training, the coaching team and the players. I listen to different groups of people,” he told FoxSports. “If right now the fans believe in astrology, they are welcome to. They are beliefs, I won’t go against them. I accept everything.”
Angelici’s willingness to try anything to defeat the white whale that has dogged his two terms in charge at Boca, that failure to either beat River or deliver Libertadores success, is unsurprising. Barred from running for a third mandate in December, the president is nevertheless keen to assure election victory for his dauphin Christian Gribaudo and continue an almost unbroken political lineage that stretches back to Mauricio Macri and the early 2000s.
With Macri in similar trouble in his bid to retain the presidency of Argentina – the nation goes to the polls on October 27, five days after the second leg - the fear in the Boca boardroom is that defeats in the same week for the head of state and at the Bombonera will prove an insurmountable obstacle for the current administration to clear.
No wonder they are
holding out for a nearmiracle against
their voracious rivals – but it is on the
field , not i n t he
heavens, that this semi
tie will ultimately