COPA DIEGO ARMANDO MARADONA
Racing Club 3
🏟️ Estadio Presidente Perón, Avellaneda
Having already been eliminated, the pressure was off Racing Club in their final Copa Diego Maradona game and Sebastián Beccacece’s players gave their coach a parting gift in his last match as La Academia’s boss.
Newell’s were hoping that with nothing to play for, Racing would be in second or third gear but it was obvious from the start that the home side would not be lying down easily. Despite dominating the early stages and forcing an impressive save from on-loan keeper Ramiro Macagno after a quarter of an hour, Racing went behind after 29 minutes, somewhat against the run of play.
Alexís Rodríguez, after taking too long to make a decision while in a promising position, found his cousin Maxi Rodríguez who didn’t hesitate to play a through ball to Sebastián ‘Tucu’ Palacios. Palacios, in what would turn out to be his last game for Newell’s Old Boys, drove the ball first-time high into the roof of the net, clipping the fingertips of Racing keeper Gabriel Arias on the way in.
With half an hour gone, Newell’s were in pole position to win Group B as news filtered through that Vélez and Godoy Cruz were tied at 1-1 but things quickly changed in Avellaneda.
In a stunning four minutes for the home side, ex-Newell’s forward Héctor Fertoli scored twice to put Racing 2-1 ahead at the break. Both goals were strangely similar; low crosses from the right wing, and then the left wing, leaving Fértoli free in the box to sidefoot home from close range.
Having debuted as a professional at Newell’s, the man known as ‘El Rayo’ respectively refused to celebrate either goal against his old club.
Newell’s manager Frank Kudelka acted swiftly at half-time, bringing on veteran goalscorer Ignacio Scocco for his first appearance since November. The decision to remove midfielder Jerónimo Cacciabue, who has often made this Newell’s side tick from the middle of the park, was an unpopular one. Scocco, who was returning from a broken collarbone, failed to make in impact in the second half, remaining largely anonymous and isolated from the run of play.
40-year-old Newell’s captain Maxi Rodríguez did try to take the game by the scruff of the neck after the break though, driving a low shot just wide of the post on 54 minutes. Moments later, there was panic at the back for Newell’s and a short pass from Santiago Gentiletti left Racing’s Lisandro López with a clear run on goal. Thankfully, the solid Ramiro Macagno anticipated the chance and saved well again to keep Newell’s alive.
As Godoy Cruz drew level with Vélez in the other Group B match, Newell’s had a huge penalty claim dismissed. If the referee had been closer to see Nery Domínguez hacking down Tucu Palacios from behind, Newell’s probably would have equalized from the spot and possibly gone on to qualify from Group B. Although Palacios ended up with a split head, having fallen onto the leg of Racing keeper Gabriel Arias, Fernando Echenique was blindly stubborn in his call: no penalty, play on.
Palacios couldn’t continue after the injury and Arias was soon removed by Beccacece, his leg having suffered a hard blow from Palacios’ skull.
Youngster Juan Sforza then nearly made it 2-2 with a spectacular effort from outside the box that hit the underside of the bar only to bounce clear. Vélez had gone 3-2 up at the Amalfitani and La Lepra were getting desperate.
With Palacios denied a penalty and Sforza hitting the bar, a third unlucky event would end the contest on 83 minutes. Lisandro López, standing in an offside position, was gifted the ball after it ricocheted off Angelo Gabrielli who was now part of a 3-man Newell’s defence in an effort to grab a valuable equaliser. Realising he was now in the clear thanks to the deflection, López hit a first-time half volley over the head of keeper Ramiro Macagno to make it 3-1 to Racing.
A late chance from substitute Luciano Cingolani offered a glimmer of hope for Newell’s but his shot blazed over the bar.
After six minutes of injury time, the final result was confirmed and with Vélez holding on to win 3-2 against Godoy Cruz, it’s Mauricio Pellegrino’s side who move forward to face Rosario Central in the final stage of the Copa Diego Maradona.
After winning their opening three games, Newell’s Old Boys will be disappointed to have surrendered a healthy lead at the top of the group and Lepra fans began to ask questions of manager Frank Kudelka after the game.
There’s no doubt that Kudelka struggled with an injury crisis throughout the competition but supporters see some of his mid-game changes as ineffective and without a cause. Mauro Formica is constantly called from the bench without any tangible impact. Jerónimo Cacciabue was replaced at half-time despite being a player who can turn nothing into something.
There’s also some confusion over the fact that Newell’s seemed to perform better last season with the services of some players who were then deemed surplus to requirements.
In his last 12 games for Newell’s, Luis Leal (who was eventually sold to Club Tijuana of Mexico to make way for Ignacio Scocco) scored 4 goals. In his last 6 games since returning to Newell’s, Scocco has scored just once.
With the Copa Diego Maradona now over for Newell’s, preparations will now focus on the club’s participation in the 2022 Copa Sudamericana and the chance to make a mark on the continental scene.
Although there is no suggestion that Frank Kudelka’s position is under threat following elimination from the competition, his next moves in the transfer market will be crucial and there’s some tough recruitment and player selection decisions to be made by Frank before Newell’s can begin to compete again.
A squad mixed of veterans and bright young stars can prove a winning formula in Argentine football, but there’s undoubtedly a sense that this Newell’s squad may be on the verge of inflation.