June 26, 2011. A day that is remembered in Argentina very differently by two different fanbases. For River, it is considered the lowest point of their club’s history – the day they for the first and only time were relegated. But for Belgrano and their fans, it is a day that is spoken of with reverence, a day that is remembered as one of the most important and special in the club’s 115 year history.
One of the many heroes of Belgrano’s 2011 promotion was Juan Carlos Olave. Juanca grew up in Córdoba and would go on to play in more than 350 matches for the Belgrano, the most ever by any player. I spoke with Belgrano’s historic keeper for over an hour via Instagram Live and he shared many insights into his career and his plans for the future. But nothing stood out more than the 20 plus minutes that we spent talking about the two matches played against River in 2011.
Before the first match in Alberdi, what was the team’s plan? Was the goal to go out and win at all costs or was it more important to keep River from scoring?
Getting to play the first match in Alberdi was the push we needed. We went into the match playing well. Emotionally we felt capable of anything. Our plan was to go out and show them who we were, not back down from the challenge. Show them that we were going to hurt them. We were going to play with intensity and endure their pace. We were going to have to play at the pace of a first division team, which was a different rhythm than the B Nacional.
From the first minute, we wanted to play like we belonged there. The intention was to attack them and make sure they knew that it wasn’t going to be easy for them, that they were going to have to suffer if they wanted to defeat us. We played that way and I think it was the first time that River thought to themselves that this wasn’t going to be easy.
We got the first goal which obviously made them start to feel nervous. Once that happened then we could play the match that we wanted to play – aggressive and attacking the second ball. This made them uncomfortable because they had players who were very tactical. We were effective in our plan and we planted doubt in their heads, which is what we needed to do in the first leg of the series.
Belgrano took a 2-0 advantage early in the second half and then the pitch was invaded by River fans and was delayed for 20 to 25 minutes. What did you guys talk about on the pitch? Did your plan for the rest of the match have to change?
It’s clear that they should have suspended the match. Once they invaded the pitch, the match needed to be called off and the victory awarded to Belgrano. By not suspending the match, they took our legs out from under us and cut off our momentum. We were in position to possibly score another goal.
We tried not to get distracted and not lose our intensity. We could see that River looked lost and we needed to sustain that. But obviously, after more than 20 minutes, the team went cold, both teams went cold. River struggled to find their rhythm and we struggled to win back control of the match like we had before.
I think if they had not stopped play, we would have done more damage to River in our stadium.
The night before the second leg in El Monumental, a group of River’s fans woke you all up with bombs and loud noises – their attempt to distract or hurt the team. What impact did that have on the team?
River’s fans tried to do exactly what we tried to do. Try to put fear into the opposition. But they didn’t know who they were going up against. We had gone through so much already as a team, to play in a final, with a lead, we were not going to get scared.
In the first half they were better than we were. They scored early and could have caused more damage, they could have scored a second. But we made it to halftime and in the locker room we were able to calm our nerves a little. We were anxious, we were thinking about the goal of promotion and that made us anxious.
But that day River played much better than they did in Alberdi, especially in the first half. But then in the second half, we figured it out. When River’s first chance at a goal didn’t go in, then we started to notice that they were getting nervous too and we thought we might be able to hurt them on a counterattack. River was going to have to go on the attack and get the second goal, we knew that would leave them open and weak at the back. And that’s exactly what happened.
In the second half we played our way, something we weren’t able to do in the first half. They came after us and we weren’t able to hit them back on the counter, but in the second half, we figured it out. And once we scored, then all the nerves were taken off us and put onto them and it made things easier for us.
The penalty you blocked from Pavone – he didn’t hit it well at all, but you still knew exactly where it was going. Did he give you some sort of sign that allowed you to know which way to dive?
We had been studying it and looking that Pavone was shooting all his penalties to the left. We had been speaking about it because we knew that they were going to award River a penalty at some point in that match. I told the coaching staff that I was going to try and make him kick it to the right. So, before he took it that’s what I tried to do, make him kick it to the right and then I dove to the right. If anything, maybe I was able to confuse him and make him switch up how he took the penalty.
I was able to guess right, and also make sure there wasn’t a rebound. The field was in bad shape and the ball could have bounced anywhere. Holding on to the ball was important.
After the penalty, El Monumental shut down. River’s fans went completely silent. The only fans you could hear in the stadium were ours. We never let ourselves think that we had won the match, but we knew at that point that we were controlling it.
So then, at what point did you finally realize that you were going to win, and that Belgrano had achieved something historic?
During the match, we never thought about it. Not until the match had ended, or actually, was suspended. It wasn’t until that moment that we allowed ourselves to celebrate.
The fact that we had done something historic, we didn’t realize it until some time later. In that moment, all we could think about was that we had obtained the goal that we had been working at all year, we had been promoted to the first division. It didn’t dawn us on until a few days later that as a result of our promotion, we had sent River to the second division.
That was all we were hearing about on the news, and it pissed us off. No one was speaking about us and everything we had done to obtain promotion. But even if they weren’t going to talk about us, we were still going to enjoy it.
The 2011 promotion is something that all the fans take a lot of pride in, but I can only imagine the pride that you must feel to have been a part of it.
Exactly. As the time has passed, and now that I’m retired and that we are spending all out time stuck at home, I’ve re-watched those matches. It’s special to be a part of something that transformed the history of our club. With that promotion, the team was able to for the first time purchase a training ground and play in international competitions. Everything that happened since the promotion has been even more important.
That moment was historic and unique, something that will probably never happen again, I can’t imagine ever playing for promotion against a huge club like River ever again. But for Belgrano, it meant a lot of growth, accomplishments, competing for first division trophies in Argentina, and more. To have been a part of all of that gives me so much pride.
Rapid Fire Questions with Juanca
Who was your idol when you were a kid?
Maradona. Navarro Montoya was my favorite goalkeeper. But in life, my idol is my father.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Exercise. That was before the pandemic. I like to be active. Back when I was playing football, I liked to spend time at home, so being stuck inside right now hasn’t been too bad for me.
The best show or movie you’ve watching during the quarantine?
Unauthorized Living (Vivir Sin Permiso)
Milansea sandwich with fries.
Beer, Wine or Fernet?
Fernet. For us Cordobeses, it is the dessert we want after an asado.
Correct percentage of Coke and Fernet?
It used to always be 70 / 30, but now that they lowered the alcohol level in Fernet, I think it’s 65 / 35.
Your favorite brand of yerba?
I don’t have a brand, but I like my yerba with sticks, the mate with sugar, and the water hot. A very Cordobés mate.
Favorite place you’ve visited?
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
A place in the world you want to visit?
I like places that are very laid back. But before I go and travel around the world, I want to visit more places right here in Córdoba and around Argentina.
If you won the lottery, what would you buy first?
A house by the river that I could go to with my family and friends.
If you weren’t a footballer, what would you have been?
I would have sold newspapers like the rest of my family always has.
How many penalties have you blocked in your career?
I don’t know the number; I’d say maybe 12. But I was never a great penalty stopper. I think people assumed I was because of the one I blocked against River.
The shot that you blocked that you celebrated the most?
One that I celebrated because I was so bitter was when we were beating Independiente and the fans threw bombs onto the field that exploded right next to me. They had to suspend the match and play the second half two months later. They scored early in the second half to tie it and then when Lucas Melano scored for us, I celebrated that so much because I was so mad about the whole thing.
One goal you still want to accomplish?
See Belgrano win a championship and be part of it.