Diego Maradona saluted Martin Palermo as a “miracle maker” after the veteran striker’s last-gasp goal against Peru night gave Argentina fresh hope of qualifying for next year’s World Cup finals.
After Hernan Rengifo’s last-minute header cancelled out Gonzalo Higuain’s opener, Palermo – restored to the side after 10 years – grabbed an injury-time goal to put Argentina in the all-important fourth place in the South American qualifying zone with one game remaining.
“Martin Palermo has saved us and our chances of qualifying are intact,” Maradona said.
“When the wind and rain and cold began and allowed Peru to draw level, we could not do anything, but the miracle of Palermo has given us a longer life. The goals I scored were normal, Palermo makes miracles.”
“Go and put an end to this story just as you have so many others,” Maradona had told Palermo as he sent him into the game three minutes into the second half with the score at 0-0.
Maradona had been under immense pressure after an unimpressive qualifying performance left his team facing the possibility of not qualifying for next year’s finals. But they will now face Uruguay, a point behind Argentina in fifth, on Wednesday in a make-or-break game.
“We’re going to play in Montevideo with all of our pride,” Maradona said.
The circumstances, combined with his own extended absence, made the goal all the more special for Palermo.
“It was incomparable, because it was for the national team at a time like this,” the striker said. “I don’t know if it was fate, but I thank God for this triumph.”