From the fans through the playing staff and all the way up to the boardroom, superstition forms an integral part of football life. Sometimes, though, a little pragmatism might go a long way. That anyway was the sensation gleaned from Defensa y Justicia President Mario Lemme's stunning confession when asked why he had not at least glimpsed at the regulations prepared for the knockout rounds of the Copa de la Liga Profesional.
“The Liga sent around a memo with the schedule to all the clubs who had a chance to qualify,” Lemme explained to TyC Sports. “Since I'm so superstitious, I told them I'd look at it on Sunday after 6pm. Why would I lodge a complaint about something that might not affect me?”
Defensa did indeed qualify for the quarter-finals, but their joy soon turned into outrage upon discovering that their clash, away to Boca Juniors, would take place barely two days after their last group game. The unsuspecting Lemme nonetheless admitted that they had no choice but to drag their weary legs to the Bombonera, where on Tuesday they were thoroughly outmatched by one of the Xeneize's best performances of the year. Unsurprisingly coach Sebastián Beccacece felt differently, and his fury only deepened after the final whistle sentenced a 2-0 defeat for his tired charges: “We don't like to complain about these things, but they are real and they hurt. We spent four months putting in an enormous effort, we reached the objective we wanted so much and we played 48 hours later... this doesn't happen in any league in the world.”
Over in Avellaneda, Aldosivi had slightly more time to prepare for their last-eight clash against Racing, but it still was not enough. In a meeting between two former Boca favourites and colleagues, Martín Palermo and Fernando Gago (also taking on his Marplatense ex-employers for the first time since getting the sack in 2021), the latter took the honours, as Racing ran riot in a 5-0 thrashing that served as a warning for the rest of the Copa Liga hopefuls. Palermo's hopes of containing the dangerous Academia and hitting on the counter were thwarted with all of three minutes on the clock when Carlos Alcaraz opened the scoring with the first of two goals for the young star, and Aldosivi had no choice but to push forward – always a danger against one of the division's deadliest sides in the final third.
Another Boca man from the 2000s, Sebastián Battaglia, probably did not have much chance to see his old team-mates duke it out live, absorbed as he was in preparing his team's own clash a couple of hours later. But the coach no doubt will have heeded the lesson as he looks forward to Saturday's semi against Racing in Lanús, given that Boca will go out in similarly organised, smash and grab fashion: fall behind early against the 'Gagoneta', and a difficult afternoon is likely in store.
With one semi-final set, all that was left was to determine which other two clubs would be joining Boca and Racing in the race to reach the decider in Córdoba's Estadio Mario Kempes. Estudiantes and River Plate arrived as overwhelming favourites to advance from their respective clashes after strong group campaigns, but their opponents had very different ideas.
Ricardo Zielinski's Pincha, who topped Group 2 ahead of Boca and outscored anyone else in the top flight, appeared to be sailing at one goal up and with a one-man advantage deep in the second half. But Argentinos Juniors, marshalled by ex-Estudiantes man Gabriel Milito, took a leaf out of the La Plata club's old Bilardista playbook, equalising through a set-piece move finished off by captain Fausto Vera and then completing the upset on penalties, with Vera himself coming back around to net the decisive kick past Mariano Andújar.
If that were enough of a shock, an even bigger upset was in store late on Wednesday night. Tigre, who just six months ago were battling to climb out of the Primera Nacional, beat River Plate 2-1 in front of a packed, bemused Monumental to advance at the Millonarios' expense. The Matador have some history in this odd concept of a tournament: back in 2019 and with relegation already assured they beat both Superliga champions Racing and Boca Juniors to lift the inaugural Copa Superliga and even when Enzo Fernández cancelled out Mateo Retegui's early opener they found a way back into the game, albeit through a disastrous mistake from Paulo Díaz at the back. Sunday's semi-final date with Argentinos is their unlikely reward, while there is little for River to do but lick their wounds and regroup for the Libertadores after one of the most remarkable results in the recent history of Argentine football.