Injustice at the Nuevo Gasómetro?

Its three days after the controversial match between San Lorenzo de Almagro and Colón de Santa Fe ended in a tie. Colón scoring in the '69 minute from a potentially offside play waved off by the referee. After the match one article on Mundo Azulgrana finished:
Lo que se vivió el domingo ante Colón fue como diría Eduardo Galeano, el mundo del revés, Patas para Arriba: el que metió la mano se fue custodiado, y a los que se la metieron, reprimidos.
What I lived on Sunday against Colón was like what Eduardo Galeano wrote about in Upside Down, the world in reverse: he that did wrong was protected and those who were wronged were punished.

Undoubtably this match does nothing to abet the hincha's perspective that Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro is the target of prejudice: A club regularly suffering against the injustices of authority. The narrative shared in the return to Boedo and to the stadium taken from the club by the dictatorship.

San Lorenzo needed a win against Colón to stay above Tigre, who is surging out of the promotion table. The very dangerous reality for San Lorenzo is not only that they are in the bottom four but that they may end up descending directly.

I think much worse than recognizing the need to win, for the hinchas there was also the feeling that they would win the match. Coming off two victories, a gutsy come-from behind triumph in Cordoba against Belgrano and a sloppy penalty-kick win in the Copa Argentina against Chacarita, there was some optimism. The banda had even changed its entering tune:

With lyrics like:
Hoy San Lorenoz hay que ganar Today San Lorenzo needs to win
No podemos perder We cannot lose
Yo dejo todo mi corazón I give you all my heart
Solo te pido salir campeón I only ask you to finish a champion

These hopes seemed realistic after Colón forward Fuertes was sent off for a hard body challenge in the 30th minute. El Ciclón had already the fair share of attacking opportunities, their chances improved greatly by going a man up in the hot afternoon sun with two-thirds of the match still to be played. More than anything else, however, finding the back of the net seems to be San Lorenzo's greatest problem. Their finishing in the box is dreadful.

It was an ugly goal but San Lorenzo found the advantage just before half. A strong strike from Kalinski ricocheted off of Colón defender Bastia into the back of the net. Underneath the rain of fire-hoses, La Gloriosa Butteler sang their team into the half-time locker room:

The 2-nil loss at home to Boca was forgotten, 4-1 in Lanús a distant memory, and in a couple of wins San Lorenzo would be out of the ascenso. In retrospect, all of the hope and good omens were only going to make what happened next worse.
In a short spell of Colón pressure coming out of the half, San Lorenzo was pushed back onto its defensive heals. San Lorenzo soaked up most of the pressure, but on a well defended attack, an innocuous blocked shot by a defenders head of would lead to a goal that has occupied sports news in Argentina for days.

From the perspective of the stands, it was impossible to understand what happened. Seeing Colón players celebrating led to an irruption of disbelief. Clearly Colón's player had been called offside by the linesman and his cross to Garcé in the middle was not serious. San Lorenzo's players had reacted to the raised flag by walking towards half, believing the play had ended. Even Garcé's tap-in was taken in the customary after the whistle style. But no whistle had been blown and the referee Abal had even wagged his finger at the linesman. Abal pointed to the centre signalling goal and was immediately surrounded by players. The stadium didn't know how to collectively react; every applicable insult and swear word was yelled simultaneously from every direction.

The goal is here:

Personally, I'm unsure about how the offside rule in this case should have been interpreted. The goal did come undeservedly against the run of play, the linesman did raise his flag to signal offside, and genuinely players from both teams did respond as if the play had ended. There is debate about how to interpret an “active” attacking player at the time the ball is passed forward, as clearly the Colón player was in an offside position. But there have been other times when a deliberate redirection by the defensive player to an offside but “unactive” attacker has not been called. A similar but different case is dealt with in #3 of You be the Ref.

What has really surprised me, however, is how the post-match reactions have failed to really pick up on two themes that are 'natural' from my North American “soccer” perspective: first San Lorenzo players did not play the whistle. Probably one of the most basic lessons any child would have heard their coach yell many many times. Second, they did not score a second goal despite playing a man up for 60+ minutes. Both of these problems I feel would have at least been raised in another cultural context to counter the sense of injustice experienced by San Lorenzo; in Argentina even in reading and listening to commentators normally against San Lorenzo these points were hardly raised.

Ending in a tie was a huge disappointment but the reaction in the stadium and after went to another level. Supporters in the normally posh Platea Norte refused to let the referees leave the pitch, throwing bottles other objects, and threats. Police with their shields were needed to escort Abal and crew off the field safely. Being in the Platea Sur, myself and friends were the most removed from the chaos and left the stadium fairly calmly. At a relative distance away from the stadium, I noticed people were focusing back onto the stadium, and that the police helicopter had come significantly closer. It was not until much later in the day that I saw the news: several hinchas of the Platea Norte had attempted to enter the change rooms.

The police response was heavy – they fired tear-gas and rubber bullets into the crowds. The populares, filled with barra bravas as well as families, by many accounts had not been involved but yet were nevertheless victims, having their eyes and throats burned by the gas. As I finish this post, the Asociación de Fútbol Argentino (AFA) is deciding whether San Lorenzo will face a two-match ban against local supporters. Supporters are already planning a march on AFA for this Friday in protest of the expected ban, with many writing: “without out hinchas, San Lorenzo doesn't play”. I'm not sure if the word ordering has the same effect in Spanish – turning the phrase from a threat into a statement of support.

It is going to be another interesting week with San Lorenzo. At the very least, next Saturday I'll be off to Rafaela (many Argentines have even asked, “where is that?”) to be with the visiting supporters.

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