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Boca Juniors won Argentina's Primera Division championship on Tuesday night, after a three-way knockout tournament that brought goals, five red cards, goalkeeping calamities, moments of stunning skill and impossible ineptitude, a sickening injury – and a dead pigeon. What the "triangular" sometimes lacked in quality, it more than made up for in drama.

 

With Boca, San Lorenzo and Tigre all tied at the year's end with identical win, draw and loss records, the 08/09 Apertura tournament moved into a three-game round-robin tournament. On Wednesday 17th December, Tigre and San Lorenzo opened the series, with San Lorenzo winning 2-1 in a game that made a mockery of Tigre's championship credentials. They looked bereft of ideas and energy, while inspirational playmaker Marcelo Morel was withdrawn at halftime having barely touched the ball. Indeed, the scoreline flattered Tigre, who could've lost by several more. Perhaps the moment that summed up their performance came when a Tigre player smashed the ball out for a corner, only to see it hit an unsuspecting pigeon. The dead bird's lifeless carcass was an appropriate symbol of Tigre's chances, and they seemed out of the competition. Yet things weren't to stay that way.

 

Heading into Game 2 on the 20th, San Lorenzo's task was simple: beat Boca and the trophy was theirs. Yet on a balmy Saturday's afternoon, Boca, without a domestic trophy since 2006, were not in a conciliatory mood. A mostly uneventful first period was marred by a sickening clash of heads between San Lorenzo's Andres Silvera and Boca's Juan Forlin, the latter of whom was left convulsing on the floor to the visible consternation of teammates. The injuries knocked the wind out of both teams in the first half, until the 48th minute when Juan Roman Riquelme whipped in a corner and Lucas Viatri powered a header into the net. San Lorenzo didn't look capable of piecing together a decent attack, yet they didn't have to: a speculative effort in the 55th minute by Santiago Solari somehow slipped between the legs of Boca goalkeeper Javier Garcia, who grimaced and with a plaintive look cast his eyes to the heavens for an explanation. It wasn't the last time he'd strike such a pose in this tournament.

 

The lead was quickly resumed as a sweeping Boca move finished when Riquelme cushioned a beautiful ball into the path of the onrushing Rodrigo Palacio, who smashed his finish into the net. And suddenly it was all over for San Lorenzo, a third Boca goal by Cristian Chavez and their poor goal difference meaning the "Cyclone"'s championship hopes were finished. Little surprise, then, that two San Lorenzo players were sent off towards the finish as the glut of yellows paraded about by the ref in the first half came home to roost.

 

To Tuesday night, where the odds favoured Boca: they simply had to avoid losing by more than one goal, and the trophy was theirs. However, with Riquelme missing through suspension, the team were lacking their most creative outlet. The impetus was on Tigre, who needed two clear goals to overhaul Boca's superior goal difference. Those who may have imagined this would spur Tigre on to flights of attacking football looked on stupefied as one of the most thrilling tournaments in recent history was concluded in a game that was for the most part drab and lifeless.

 

And then in the 68th minute, it all changed. A long ball pumped into the Boca box by midfielder Matias Gimenez should have been comfortably dealt with by Garcia. Yet the keeper inexplicably stayed rooted to the spot, allowing Leandro Lazzaro a simple header into the back of the net. Boca manager Carlos Ischia clearly feared the worst for his first-choice keeper's frame of mind, for he immediately brought him off, replacing him with the debuting Jose Ayala.

 

With Tigre now needing just a single goal more to edge ahead of Boca on goal difference – and hence win the championship – the scene was set for a tense final 25 minutes. Yet Tigre remained unable to put their opponents under pressure, restricting themselves to skewed long shots and route-one balls hit in hope more than anything else. The tension of the final few minutes clearly got to Boca's Rodrigo Palacio, who was sent off in the dying seconds after rapidly collecting two yellow cards.

 

Ultimately, the Triangular tournament failed in it's prime duty - it was supposed to separate the three teams, yet each lost and won a game, and the Boca ran out as winner's based solely on a +1 goal difference above their rivals. While it may be ultimately unsatisfying to watch a team win a championship whilst losing a game, the championship stayed exciting until the very final minute, and though Boca may not have really earned the trophy in the most dignified way, that didn't stop the legions of fans celebrating in Buenos Aires until long into the night.

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