Based in the Barrio of La Paternal around a 40 minute walk from our Airbnb, Argentinos Juniors aren’t by any means Buenos Aires biggest club but are certainly one of its most important. The club is probably best known for giving Diego Maradona his debut in senior football aged just 15. El Pibe de Oro enjoyed five years in La Paternal before moving on to bigger things with Boca, Barcelona and Napoli. Maradona is probably the best example of El Bicho’s notable youth system that has also provided the likes of Juan Román Riquelme, Fernando Redondo, Esteban Cambiasso, and, erm, Julio Arca. It’s not just in youth football where Argentinos Juniors have excelled, in the mid-1980’s the club had its most successful period winning two titles, the Libertadores and Copa Interamericana in a three year period. The club just missed out on the Intercontinental title in 1985 drawing 2-2 with Italian giants Juventus, going down 4-2 on penalties in Tokyo.
I was told prior to the trip that Argentinos matches were easy to pick up tickets for on the day, so we took the walk to the ground walking through Chacarito to La Platernal. A warm pleasant night for two pretty knackered travellers that had got off a 14 hour flight earlier that morning. Most games in Argentina are staggered throughout the weekend so the match against Rosario Central kicked off at 9:10. After being sent around the stadium by security we eventually found the ticket office and picked up two tickets in the stand costing A$1,500 (around £18) each. Next to the ticket office was a fantastic unofficial merchandise shop where in an area smaller than most peoples front rooms was pretty much every piece of Argentinos Juniors stuff you could think of where, of course I bought a magnet.
To attend Argentine games you need to take a form of ID, so if you do go always make sure you carry your passport with you. Driving Licenses often aren’t enough. We made our way through the security lines and into the main stand. Booze isn’t sold at grounds in Argentina, so if you want pints stay out of the ground until kick off. In this case we had turned up probably a bit too early. I’d seen beforehand Argentinos tunnel was an inflatable Diego Maradona, I can’t lie this was one of the big draws to go and watch them. When we arrived there it wasn’t there, in fact there was no sign of it. Genuinely the most disappointing starts to the trip… or so I thought. Argentine stadiums might a little more tired than their English counterparts however the quality of their inflatable tunnels is unrivalled. Around ten minutes before kickoff, in no time at all, Caterpilliego was rolled out and inflated ready for the match. Is this the greatest example of engineering ever? For me, yes.
As the Barra brava spilled into the ground the teams came out and we were ready to go, both teams were on 36 points with an outside chance of Libertadores qualification. In this blog I won’t really go deep into football, it’s more about the experience, what I will say though is this was great fun. An end to end game with both teams going for it, lots of hard tackles, excellent foot work, all without the histrionics that seem to dominate in Europe. Our first 45 minutes in Argentina saw 2 goals, a near miss from the halfway line, a back header well saved, as it ended 1-1 Rosario took the lead after 15 minutes from a corner, clever flick on and back post finish. Argentinos drew level with a back post ball that was headed home wonderfully, similar neck muscle action to Gullit against the USSR in the Euro 88 Final.
The second half was similar to the first, plenty of attacking football as both teams tried to find a goal, a red card for the Rosario manager and a winner for Argentinos with a well struck volley from the outside of the area. It took a slight nick on the way through but was an excellent strike. Oh, and I had already found my favourite player of the whole trip in 39 year old Uruguayan journeyman Santiago Silva. The big baldy boy ran himself into the ground all match. Did that really matter? In all honesty no because Diego tunnel was being inflated again.
After the match we popped to a bar across the road for a Quilmes and a chat before our walk home. It was essentially a shrine to Diego and included a full size model of the Libertadores. This wouldn’t be our last run in with a full size Libertadores or shrines to Diego for that matter. We made our way back to the apartment after our first Argentine adventure. While reasonably quiet, a fantastic opener after a long day. It was onto Boca the next day.