BUENOS AIRES Boca Juniors midfielder Fernando Gago will be hoping for a lucky break when he faces River Plate on Sunday, having ruptured his Achilles tendon in both his previous two appearances in Argentina's "superclasico".
The Argentina international’s comeback has had a galvanising effect on Boca at the right time as they prepare for the biggest game of the Argentine season at El Monumental, home of their arch-rivals.
Gago will play only his third match of the 2016/17 season having suffered his second Achilles injury in April. That was two months after he recovered from the previous rupture he suffered at River in September, 2015.
The former Real Madrid, AS Roma and Valencia midfielder helped Boca win 2-1 away to San Lorenzo in his comeback match 10 days ago and was at the heart of their 4-2 home victory over Racing Club on Sunday.
“We need to continue with the performance we had this afternoon. That way we’ll be close to winning (against River),” Boca coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto told reporters after Sunday’s win was sealed with a Carlos Tevez goal.
Boca, with Tevez benefitting from Gago’s return, have edged to within two points of leaders Estudiantes, whose form has dipped after a runaway start to the season.
The 30-year-old Gago, who helped Argentina reach the 2014 World Cup final, contemplated retiring after his injury in April but persuaded himself he still had plenty to offer Boca.
“At first I did (consider retiring) because I didn’t feel like going through the recovery process again,” he told La Nacion in an interview last week.
“It was a very grave injury, more so than the first with a longer and more complicated period of recovery.”
A talented player, who might have had a bigger impact in Europe but for problems with injuries and form, Gago has in two matches single-handedly transformed Boca from a side lacking cohesion into well-balanced title challengers.
He said he wanted to add to his 60 Argentina caps having been a central figure under World Cup coach Alejandro Sabella.
“I always play football trying to get into the Argentina national team. It’s the maximum a player can achieve.”
(Writing by Rex Gowar; editing by Toby Davis)