A series of events that you could find in a short story written by Argentinian novelist Roberto “El Negro” Fontanarrosa. At first you would laugh, then you would reflect on it. The story of the first away game of Argentinian club Atlético Tucumán is real and takes place in Ecuador. After pity laughs you would start to think, to meditate.
Let’s begin with the facts, then we’ll talk about conjectures and guessworks.
The return leg of the second preliminary round of Copa Libertadores between El Nacional of Ecuador and Argentinian side Atlético Tucumán was scheduled on 7th February at 19.15 (Quito local time), at the “Atahualpa Olympic Stadium”. However at that time the visiting team, who have more than 4,000 fans in the Marsical neighborhood of the Ecuadorian capital since Sunday, haven’t made it to the stadium yet. Not even to Quito.
Where are they?
It’s a common practice for teams who travel to high-altitude cities like Quito (2800 m.a.s.l), to reach the place at the very last minute. Atlético Tucumán take it really slow and run into a serious problem: the plane, owned by Chilean airline company Aerovias Dap and reserved in Guayaquil, hasn’t been authorized to fly by Directorate General of Civil Aviation of Ecuador.
The Argentinian club decide to put players and staff on a commercial flight travelling from the city on the Pacific coast, where they are preparing the match, to Quito. They reach the Ecuadorean capital without their luggages and try to get to the stadium on a bus that speeds along the motorway at 130 kilometres per hour. A big risk.
In the meantime El Nacional of Ecuador are waiting at “Atahualpa Olympic Stadium”. They are waiting for more than 45 minutes, the maximum time permitted by South America Football Confederation rules. Home team should win by forfeit, but it doesn’t happen as they wait for Atlético Tucumán to kick off the game. The Argentinian side’s bus peels out in the parking of Atahualpa Olympic Stadium, players rush out to the dressing room where they find the jerseys of Argentina U20 team, who are taking part in the South American Youth Football Championship, also held in Quito. This is the only avalaible kit because Atlético Tucumán shirts and socks are still in Guayaquil. Argentinian youth players also make their boots available. A little bit of stretching and they go to the pitch. Without any warm up.
However football has its own rules and despite all that has happened Atlético Tucumán play a wonderful match. They are focused, they dominate the game for more than a hour missing several chances that would make them advance to the third qualifying round. Finally, in the second half, Zampedri scores the decisive goal wearing Argentina U20 striker Lautaro Martínez’s number 9 shirt. After a fierce defense in the last minutes of the game, Atlético Tucumán win and qualify.
This is where facts end, and conjectures start.
The most imaginative one was told in a a post-match interview by Atlético Tucumán coach Pablo Lavallén. According to him there was a conspiracy against his team. Praising the Justice of God (“God is fair,” he screamed) he asked Conmebol to investigate on what had happened before the game. He has never uttered a word about El Nacional, who waited for them for more then a hour. According to some rumours, it looked like the Ecuadorean club was initially willing to wait for their opponents, but after the game El Nacional president clearly said that South American Football Federation forced his club to wait and play, threatening El Nacional with disqualification.
According to other local sources, Argentinian ambassador Luis Juez spoke in favour of Atlético Tucumán with Conmebol and Ecuadorian football executives. This crazy story takes place in a difficult moment for Ecuador. In the next future Ecuadorean people will elect their president after the end of Rafael Correa’s era begun in 2007. Furthermore local government has just started negotiations with ELN, the most powerful South America terrorist organization alongside Colombian guerilla movement FARC who had found an agreement with local president Juan Manuel Santos.
Argentinian embassador has confirmed the conversation with El Nacional chairman but he points out that there was no pressure, specifying that if Ecuadorian club didn’t want to play, they had the right to do it. A surreal but authentic South American story. A series of controversial events fully in line with Latin America specificity, full of secret power games, genuine impulses and controversies that show life through a peculiar point of view. Every time. The day after the game El Nacional announced their intention to protest with the help of Ecuadorian football federation, but Conmebol rejected their request.
That’s Copa Libertadores.
Unfortunately that’s also Conmebol, a confederation plagued by charges and corruption convictions over the last years. You can gain credibility only if you are transparent, which is what Conmebol hasn’t been.