A last minute goal from veteran striker Martin Palermo handed Argentina a vital 2-1 win over Peru in their penultimate World Cup qualifying match.
The dramatic victory keeps Diego Maradona’s team in the running to qualify for the prestigious tournament in South Africa after Peru had scored an 89th minute equaliser to put Argentina on the brink of elimination.
As usual, Maradona baffled experts and supporters with his squad and team selection. 36-year-old Rolando Schiavi was preferred to Martin Demichelis at the back whilst Pablo Aimar and Gonzalo Higuain made their first appearance of the manager’s short reign to date. Slightly more bewildering was the fact that Maxi Rodriguez, Jesus Datolo, Fernando Gago and Javier Zanetti weren’t even called up to the squad.
Even so, despite Argentina’s woeful qualification form, they were widely expected to defeat a Peru side that had only scored two goals away from home all campaign. Peru looked just as threatening as that statistic throughout a first half that Argentina completely dominated.
However, a succession of chances came and went as the hosts could not find the breakthrough early on. Gabriel Heinze flashed a header wide in the 6th minute before debutant Gonzalo Higuain somehow fired over from six yards after a good cross from the lively Angel Di Maria. Once again, Lionel Messi was struggling to make an impression for his country although his fierce drive in the 40th minute went narrowly wide as Maradona’s men were struggling to break down a stubborn Peru defence.
After a half of dominance, Argentina went into the break with the deadlock still waiting to be broken. Despite Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero waiting to be unleashed from the bench, Maradona turned to Martin Palermo to partner Higuain up front in the second half. Nevertheless, they were nearly stunned just a minute after the restart as a corner from Nolberto Solano was volleyed onto the bar from outside the area by Juan Vargas.
The effort sparked Argentina into life and within seconds, a superb through ball by the recalled Pablo Aimar found Higuain who fired low into the far corner for an important debut goal that gave Argentina a 1-0 lead.
Many expected the goal to open the floodgates amongst the Peru defence. Nevertheless, the floodgates opened in the sky as the conditions become near unplayable at times. Even so, Maradona chose to adopt a defensive stance which saw Higuain removed for defender Martin Demichelis. The change removed any impetus Argentina may have received from scoring.
The game began to drift at this stage with Peru holding the majority of the possession without threatening. However just as the points looked safe, Argentina conceded a dramatic equaliser in the 89th minute which saw all their previous defensive flaws return. A cross from the left found substitute Hernan Rengifo who kept his cool to head past goalkeeper Romero after being completely unmarked in the six yard box.
The hosts desperately through everyone forward in stoppage time and were rewarded with a crucial winner in the 93rd minute. Gabriel Heinze received the ball on the right of the penalty area as Peru struggled to clear a corner. The much criticised defender played a hopeful ball across the six yard box that found 35-year-old Palermo lurking at the back post for a simple tap in.
The ending nearly became even more dramatic as Peru sensationally hit the crossbar from the kick off. Nevertheless, Argentina just held on for what could turn out to be a crucial victory to send Maradona sliding across the pitch in celebration.