It is often said in Argentinian football circles that Martin Palermo’s life and career should be made into a film. Solely on the basis of his exploits in an Argentina jersey, it is hard to disagree.
Many wrote off the rangy striker’s national-team future after the events of 5 July 1999, when Palermo missed no fewer than three penalties in a CONCACAF Copa America clash with Colombia. That appeared to be the case too, after successive Argentina coaches continually ignored his claims despite him scoring record numbers of goals for Boca Juniors. That is, until Diego Armando Maradona was handed the reins of La Albiceleste.
‘El Loco’ Palermo’s triumphant return came about on 10 October 2009 in a crucial qualifying encounter for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ against Peru on home soil. In driving rain and desperate for the victory, Argentina conceded a last-gasp equaliser only for Palermo to stab home a winner deep into injury time to secure a 2-1 success and give them a vital edge over Uruguay going into the final round of matches.
His presence at South Africa 2010 was by no means certain, however, until El Pelusa confirmed the 36-year-old forward, a scorer of over 230 career goals, would travel to his first FIFA World Cup finals. The wait was worth it: Palermo’s late clincher in the 2-0 win over Greece in Polokwane on 22 June made him the oldest Argentinian player ever to find the net at the finals.
“I didn’t know that!” said the man of the moment to FIFA.com just minutes later. “But people are always showing me new statistics. This record makes me even prouder than the others because it happened in national-team colours.
“I was overcome with emotion. Everybody celebrated that goal as if every one of them had scored it too. I’m really pleased with all the affection they have for me,” said Palermo of his team-mates’ enthusiastic congratulations after his crisp finish with his weaker right foot on 89 minutes.
The man dubbed an "optimistic goalgetter" by former Boca coach Carlos Bianchi also took the opportunity to say a special thanks to his coach for putting him on the plane to South Africa 2010. “I’ll always be eternally grateful to Diego for this opportunity. I’ve seen a lot of World Cups pass by during my career and I was never part of them. To be here and part of a squad with such magnificent players at the age of 36 is more than a dream come true.”
Finally, what was the verdict of the Argentina boss on the substitute’s impressive cameo? “What happened with Martin is crazy. Before choosing who to put on I was discussing it with [assistant coaches Hector] Enrique and [Alejandro] Mancuso.
“They wanted to bring on El Pipita (Gonzalo Higuain) so I said, ‘Is that right? Then tell Martin he’s going on.’ And it worked! Before he took the field I simply said to him ‘go out there and finish this game off’, nothing else.” And having grasped this brief opportunity with both hands, who would bet against El Loco making headlines again before the end of South Africa 2010?