Saint Palermo works more miracles

PRETORIA - Argentine striker Martin Palermo, playing his first World Cup at the age of 36, has taken to the stage for a new act in a theatrical career peppered with improbable goals, bizarre injuries and farce.

Palermo became Argentina's oldest World Cup scorer with the second goal in the 2-0 win over Greece that guaranteed Diego Maradona's team top place in Group B and a second round clash with Mexico.

"The Palermo movie never ends, it's unbelievable. I put Palermo on and he worked miracles," Maradona said after Tuesday's match in Polokwane.

Maradona held the previous record having scored his 34th and last international goal at 33 against the same country in the 1994 finals.

Palermo, the odd one out among Maradona's half dozen strikers that include the more talented Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Sergio "Kun" Aguero and Diego Milito, is more effective than elegant.

Even his fans call him "the log" for his clunky style and on more than a few occasions, he has scored with his hips, his heel and even both feet at the same time.

Last season Palermo, Argentine club Boca Juniors' all-time top scorer with 222 goals, headed a goal from the centre circle.

"It's intuition and knowing where to be that you go acquiring with experience," Palermo said of his uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time.


Palermo's injuries have sometimes been as unconventional as his goals.

During a spell at Villarreal in Spain, he fractured his ankle when a small ledge gave way as he dashed towards the stands to celebrate a goal.

He once scored for Boca despite having torn a knee ligament - an injury he only noticed afterwards in the changing rooms.

At the Copa America in Paraguay in 1999, Palermo missed three penalties in the same game against Colombia. His international career appeared over then with seven caps, but 10 years later he got a surprise eighth thanks to Maradona.

A month later he scored a critical winner against Peru in a downpour as Argentina struggled in the qualifiers. An ecstatic Maradona dived across the rain-soaked pitch on his belly and then dubbed his miracle worker, Saint Palermo.

"To be at the World Cup at this stage in my career after seeing so many go by without being able to be there ... is the greatest satisfaction football has given me," Palermo told reporters after the squad's return to base from Polokwane.

Argentina fans expected Messi to be among the team's first scorers in the finals but he has not found the back of the net yet. Palermo's goal, his ninth in 15 matches for Argentina, showed he was determined to give "the Palermo movie" a happy ending.

Asked to give a title to what could be the film of his career, Palermo said: "First we'll have to find someone to write the script ... because who could express what I've experienced?"

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