To teams and their fans stuck in the lower reaches of the football pyramid, every moment away from the promised land of the top flight can feel like an eternity. Each season that passes is noted mentally like a prison inmate scrawling on their cell wall, with only the hope that the coming year will be the one where everything changes for the better.
Platense know that sensation better than most. No less than 22 years have passed since the Saavedra side last played in the Primera División, the longest stint since they first joined the elite back in 1913 and a situation everyone at the club is desperate to remedy.
Tomorrow the Calamar take to the field in Rosario's Estadio Marcelo Bielsa with that prize on the line. Standing in their way are Estudiantes of Río Cuarto, themselves keen to go one step further after already squandering one opportunity in this convoluted, polemic mini-tournament the Argentine Football Association (AFA) arranged to decide who in the Primera Nacional would join already promoted Sarmiento de Junín alongside the likes of Boca Juniors, River Plate and the rest of Argentina's football elite. It has been a marathon for every team involved – almost 18 months have passed since the 2019-2020 season first kicked off – and one Platense hopes ends with a final flourish.
With over 70 years of Primera football in their history, Platense lie 15th in the league's historic overall table. Stars such as Ángel Labruna, Claudio Borghi, Eduardo Coudet and Blas Giunta pulled on the club's famous brown jersey, while future World Cup winner David Trezeguet also cut his teeth in Saavedra, playing five games as a teenager before moving to Europe. One of the most noted results in Platense's history came in 1988, when they overcame Boca Juniors 2-1 to win a pre-Libertadores mini-tournament.
Since dropping down to the Nacional B in 1999, however, there has been little to cheer for the Calamar faithful. Three years later Platense were relegated to the third tier for the first time in club history, and they have spent much of the last two decades bouncing between the Nacional and Metropolitana tournaments before gaining their most recent promotion in 2018 by beating Estudiantes de Buenos Aires in front of a euphoric home support.
Should they take the final step this time round, few will begrudge their achievement. The Calamar finished second in their group behind Estudiantes de Río Cuarto only by virtue of goal difference, with the Córdoba side hitting twice in the last 10 minutes in their final game against Agropecuario to pip their rivals to the summit. Veteran journalist Alejandro Fabbri, a Platense fan, was furious with the result, accusing Agropecuario of “messing around” due to their abject defending and suggested a “pact between soya growers” could have been behind the result.
Having seen victory slip through their fingers, the club have nevertheless bounced back admirably in the play-off stage. Deportivo Riestra were dispatched with the help of a penalty shoot-out, before Platense demolished Atlético Rafaela 2-0 to reach the final. They do not face an easy task, though. Estudiantes, who just five years ago played in the fourth-tier Federal B, have made impressive if not always uncontroversial progress up the league system – in 2019 the club was thrown into scandal when audio footage emerged of a player claiming that the prior season had been “fixed” in their favour – and boast an enviable financial situation which has allowed them to sign players like ex-San Lorenzo and Paraguay enforcer Néstor Ortigoza in recent years.
Estudiantes have never before played in the top flight and hope to embark on a new adventure, while everyone connected to Platense will give their all to regain the Primera standing which has proved so elusive for the last two decades. The result is an intriguing clash to finally bring this interminable Argentine league season to an end – whoever does prevail, they will have little over a fortnight to rest weary legs and prepare for the new challenge before the Liga Profesional starts in earnest.