Argentinian forward Martin Palermo seemingly cannot help making both headlines and history. Ten years ago, at his footballing peak, the rangy goalscorer earned world notoriety for missing no fewer than three penalties in a match against Colombia at the 1999 Copa America in Paraguay.
That painful experience appeared to have drawn a line under the Boca Juniors legend's international career, despite the seemingly endless number of records broken with the Buenos Aires giants. Yet the appointment of Xeneize idol Diego Maradona to the Albiceleste helm gave Palermo fresh hope and coincided with the front-runner hitting the 200-goal mark in the Argentinian game, a vast array of strikes which included a goal from his own half and last week's stunning header from 40 yards out against Velez Sarsfield.
All of which had increased the clamour for a recall to national-team duty, particularly given Argentina's recent qualifying travails. Yet even a man dubbed an "optimistic goalgetter" by former Boca coach Carlos Bianchi could barely have imagined such a dramatic return.
Having been a goal up against Peru in the Estadio Monumental thanks to Gonzalo Higuain's crisp 48th-minute strike, a shock late equaliser from visiting forward Hernan Rengifo had thrown Argentina's hopes of reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ into ever greater doubt. But in the third minute of injury time, with the home fans hurling insults at the team and coach Maradona disconsolate on the bench, Argentina launched one final attack and there, unmarked at the far post, was Palermo, who had the presence of mind to stick out a leg and divert the ball into the empty net.
"To be honest I never thought I'd experience something like this again. It was hard to think clearly when it was raining so hard and desperation had taken over. This is a reward for all of my hard work, it's one of the happiest days of my life," said the man of the moment afterwards, his eyes red from tears of joy and relief. "Men cry too, of course they do. We suffered so much, it was so emotional. A goal like that needs to be experienced and really felt," said a player who earned his place in the starting line-up with a brace in the previous week's friendly against Ghana.
"What happened today was incredible and I can only hope that Argentinian fans will now finally have found a place for me in their hearts," Palermo continued, before turning his focus to Wednesday's vital clash against qualifying rivals Uruguay in Montevideo. "What really matters is what happens in Uruguay. It's going to be another final and we have to go over there and play for our lives."
At the interval I told him to go out and win the game, though we never imagined it would happen like this. It was yet another miracle by Saint Palermo.
"What more can you say about Martin?" said Maradona afterwards of a striker who has overcome two torn cruciate knee ligaments and a fractured right ankle, caused when a concrete wall collapsed on him when celebrating a goal for former club Villarreal. "At the interval I told him to go out and win the game, though we never imagined it would happen like this. It was yet another miracle by Saint Palermo."
"Which of my goals was like the one he scored today? None of them. The goals I scored during my career were normal, it's Palermo who's the miracle-man," continued El Pelusa. "He goes on the pitch and does incredible things. That's why the fans were asking me to bring him on and they were right. Once he's on people know something's going to happen."
Also keen to heap praise on Saturday night's match-winner was Albiceleste captain Javier Mascherano: "If we're honest, Martin saved all our skins. His story is like an unbelievable film, he's got a gift and seems destined to pop up in situations like these."
And does the Liverpool midfielder feel the Palermo story has enough mileage for a sequel? "Let's hope that it doesn't stop here and this happens again. Him doing it at the World Cup would be nice..."