Last month, I wrote about the Clásico de la Fuga, the match where that dominant Peñarol team, La Máquina, came out an utterly dominated their lowly rivals. Well, for forty-five minutes. Nacional refused to play the second half, afraid of losing by 5 or 6, and they were to never hear the end of it.
I wrote that it changed the rivalry forever. I also wrote that it was the most important clásico ever. Those who disagree with me may point to another clásico, played on April 23, 1987, twenty-eight years ago today.
Peñarol and Nacional played out a clásico as part of the Copa Andalucía, which could be described as a ‘friendly’ tournament. They were not playing for the Uruguayan championship, nor were they playing for the Copa Libertadores. If you are aware of the nature of the matches between the two, however, you know this does not matter. Every clásico is that. A clásico.
Thirty-three minutes in, Peñarol went up through a Ricardo Viera header. The joy was to last until 49 minutes, with Nacional equalizing, again through a set piece. Twenty minutes later, the passion that fills such matches proved too much for Peñarol’s goal scorer Viera, who was sent off for a nasty tackle.
Four minutes later, it got worse. José Herrera floored an opponent, and was sent off accordingly. In the ensuing chaos, his teammate, José Batlle Perdomo, also saw red for dissent.
At 1-1, with fifteen minutes remaining, Peñarol were down to eight men. They needed to hold on.
They did more than that.
Eighty-three minutes in. Dominguez burst through midfield, beating three already retreating Nacional players, before laying the ball off to Diego Aguirre. Aguirre waited for what seemed like an eternity. The run finally came, from Cabrera, who received Aguirre’s flick and drove the ball into the bottom corner.
It was like a dream. Peñarol had achieved the impossible. They held on desperately for the remaining ten minutes, earning one of the hardest fought victories on Uruguayan soil.
The 8 contra 11 was important for several reasons, with the most obvious being the humiliation of a rival that was unable to hold on with a three man advantage. More importantly, however, the win was proof of Peñarol’s determination, courage, and new found confidence.
“You see, Maestro?”, Viera screamed at coach Oscar Tabarez, “this is who we are!”.
They were Peñarol. They were fighters who now possessed a self-belief so strong that they could defeat any team, no matter how difficult the challenge.
And they did. This battle-hardened and confident Peñarol team continued its miraculous achievements six months later, overcoming America de Cali in that agonizing Copa Libertadores final.