The Primera Nacional was always likely to be contentious given the premature end to the season. Sarmiento de Junín were third in Zona B some ten points behind leaders San Martín de Tucumán when play was halted in March 2020 yet the Verde are back in the top flight after four years away winning Zona B Campeonato and then edging out Estudiantes de Río Cuarto on penalties.
Only a goalline clearance after 10 seconds denied Nahuel Cainelli giving Estudiantes the lead yet the Celeste didn’t have to wait too long with Bruno Sepúlveda sliding in the opener after 20 minutes.
Estudiantes should probably have extended their lead during a period of dominance but instead allowed Sarmiento back in. Claudio Pombo didn’t appear to be going anywhere when he twisted away from a couple of challenges 25 yards from goal but the midfielder opened up a shooting opportunity and managed to sneak a low shot past Luis Ardente.
In a bizarre 60 seconds ten minutes from full time, Estudiantes saw Lucas Suárez sent off for a second yellow card, from the resulting free-kick Sarmiento hit the crossbar and as the Celeste broke, Martín García picked up his second yellow to make it ten versus ten.
Neither side could take advantage and find a winner so penalties would be needed to decide which team would be heading to the Liga Profesional de Fútbol. When Jonathan Torres blazed over Sarmiento’s first and Estudiantes were able to rely on the steely nerves of penalty expert Néstor Ortigoza it was first blood to Sergio Vázquez’s side.
But when goalkeeper Ardente hit the post it allowed Sarmiento back in. Veterans Federico Mancinelli and Federico Vismara scored to put the Verde in front and Manuel Vicentini saved from Sepúlveda it was all over.
Sarmiento will join the once again expanding top flight and Estudiantes de Río Cuarto must now refocus on their second chance. The Primera Nacional’s playoffs begin on Sunday with 16 qualified sides beginning the knockout stage, Estudiantes have some time before they rejoin but they can’t afford to let morale drop.