4 July means so much in America, in the United States, it’s Independence Day, meanwhile, it has a different meaning for South Americans, especially in Copa America. In 1999 a very special night occurred in Paraguay.
Martin Palermo already delighted the Bombonera with his formidable striker instinct as Batistuta did before he went to Florence. The Boca Juniors striker then put on the shirt of La Albiceleste to lead the Argentine attack at the Copa America in Paraguay that same year.
After a double in the first match of La Albiceleste against Ecuador, Argentina faced Colombia. Palermo will be the sad protagonist of a humiliating defeat, five years after the historic victory in Buenos Aires (5-0 in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers). That night, the most famous player the Colombian coach started with was Ivan Ramiro Cordoba, who played at Inter Milan. Rene Higuita was benched and Faustino Asprilla, an important player at Parma in 1998/199 wasn’t even in the squad. The last Copa America, Colombia had been involved in was marked by the threats of Pablo Escobar.
In the other side, Marcelo Bielsa set-up his team with a number of future world-class players, the likes of Walter Samuel (future member of the Galacticos project), Roberto Ayala (the future defensive leader at Valencia), Juan Pablo Sorin (future left-back at Leverkusen) Javier Zanetti (the most capped for Inter), Diego Pablo Simeone (actual coach of Atletico Madrid), Juan Roman Riquelme (a wonderful playmaker), Killy Gonzalez (future forward at Valencia) and Martin Palermo the protagonist.
Juan Pablo Sorin, crossed from the left side to the penalty box in the direction of Martin Palermo but the defender touched the ball with his hand like Thiago Silva used to. Martin Palermo took the ball, took a deep breath and with all of his strength sent a missile on the crossbar.
On the second, the attack debuted on the same left side, this time Killy Gonzalez tried to find the goalscorer but as if it was standard Ramiro Cordoba reproduced the same foul. In the 76th minute, Martin Palermo was asked to shoot.
Marcelo Bielsa, crazy on the bench, scream it out “Palermo Palermo”, the atypical Argentine coach didn’t want no one else than Palermo as the shooter. Some will consider this act a sign of foolishness or a big sign of confidence in his striker. Too much nervousness, the number nine shot clearly over the crossbar. ’til now the ball hasn’t been found yet.
The third, he was simply fouled in the penalty box. Neither the crossbar nor the sky were the problem, he pulled on the left of the goalkeeper, the latter anticipated and pushed back the shot. Miguel Calero, the Colombian goalkeeper, gets Boca’s striker into the record book by stopping his third penalty. Result: the national team ruled by Marcelo Bielsa lost three-nil.
A night of penalties. It was the fifth of the night, the match could end on a different scoreline if Burgos (the eternal Diego Simeone’s assistant) hadn’t stopped one for Argentina. Colombia’s goals were scored by Ivan Ramiro Cordoba from the penalty spot, Edwin Congo and Johnnier Montano. Colombia finished in first place of Group C, ahead of Argentina with six points.
“It’s the worst moment I’ve had on the pitch. At that moment, I needed the earth to suck me up, I wanted to disappear” said the former striker.
Despite this game, on the next day, Palermo gave interviews and promised to get on with his career. Three days later, he scored in the 2-0 win over Uruguay. He finished as Argentina’s top scorer in the tournament with three goals. Their tournament didn’t last because the Brazil national team booted them outside the Copa America with a 2-1 victory. This Selecao had as leaders the pair Ronaldo and Rivaldo who both finished at the top with 5 goals.
Martin Palermo is a prolific goalscorer, he is Boca Junior’s all-time top scorer with 236 goals but he has a solid reputation of being a black cat. When he played at Villareal, in celebrating a goal up in front of his fans on the Levante’s pitch, he caused the stand cave in. It falls on his leg. A terrible injury which compromised his future with the yellow submarine, the debut and the end of is European career.
Banned since his three penalties missed. The crossing of the desert begins for Palermo, who will once again wear the jersey of his homeland nine years after his nightmarish night. He found resurrection with Diego Maradona, another Bombonera legend – the mythic stadium of Boca Junior. Then he put everyone in his shoes by offering the qualification to Argentina in 2010 World Cup eliminatory.
October 2009, he scored the last minute goal against Peru, precisely in the 93th minute vs a defensive Peru team. All this happened under a downpour at the Monumental, the River Plate stadium for the biggest joy of Maradonna who was in trance. Palermo counts only 10 caps with the national team, but he has scored six time. A good ratio one goal each two games. After this goal, his biggest fan, Diego Maradonna himself believed that he had 80% to figure in his squad for the World Cup in Africa. He didn’t.
Since this game, he never appeared again with the national team. In the present time, Martin Palermo is a coach, he ruled a few modest clubs in South America (Godoy Cruz, Arsenal de Sarandi, Union Espanola), he has just been appointed by the Mexican club Pachuca in January 2019.
He missed three penalties playing for Argentina against Colombia. He scored a goal in the next game. He broke his leg while celebrating a goal for Villareal. He scored a goal from inside his own half (something even Pele failed to do in 1970 World Cup). His injuries kept him out of football twice for six month periods. His 200th goal for Boca Juniors was a 40 yard header which won the game. He scored the last minute winner to put Argentina into the 2010 World Cup.
While others would have given up, lost hope or even shade in alcohol like Paul Gascoigne. He continued his career and despite his goal for qualifying, he still remains for a number of Argentinian fans (especially those of River Plate), enemy #1.