Maradona singing in the rain
As the heavens opened in Buenos Aires it took Diego Maradona a few seconds to go from King Lear to Gene Kelly, from howling in the storm trapped in tragedy to singing, dancing and sliding in the rain in celebration.
Peru's equaliser in the last minute of normal-time was swiftly followed by Argentina's last-gasp winner. In all the drama and the emotion, one question should not be overlooked - how on earth could Argentina get themselves in such a mess against opponents whose away record in the campaign going into the game was so appalling? (eight games, all lost, two goals scored and 24 conceded).
After his injury-time winner, lumbering centre-forward Martin Palermo goes home as the hero. But he was also the villain - or more so, Maradona was, for introducing Palermo at half-time. It was yet another panic change at the interval where Maradona tore apart the structure of his side.
Martin Palermo celebrates his dramatic last-gasp winner for Argentina
It was goalless after 45 minutes, but the ball had hardly been out of Peru's half. Argentina had created chances though, to be fair to Maradona, and had at times suffered from a lack of presence in the opposing penalty area.
If the second half was going to be exactly the same, then Maradona could have felt justified in his decision to take off Perez on the right of midfield and bring on Palermo.
But a game of football is a process, its pattern liable to change. Soon after the restart Higuain put the hosts in front - and Peru realised they now outnumbered Argentina five to three in midfield.
And their most dangerous player, Juan Manuel Vargas on the left of midfield, was now free. It was a different game, one which Argentina were no longer tactically or psychologically equipped to play.
While it was goalless and they were dominant, Argentina had looked over-anxious, trying to walk the ball into the net. But after taking the lead and then finding themselves under pressure they had a collective attack of nerves.
As the storm erupted around him, Maradona had to work out how to correct the mistake he had made, responding to the growing Peruvian threat by withdrawing Higuain and sending on De Michelis as an emergency right-back - weakening his attack without, as it proved, doing much to shore up the defence.
It is always easier in hindsight, but surely Maradona would have done better to have sent the same side out for the second half. Part of the team's nerves can be attributed to personnel - the back line does not look at all solid. But part is coming from the coach and his endless changes.
Diego Maradona shows his relief at the victory after the game
Half-time in Buenos Aires was a moment when they needed to be calmed and reassured, told to keep passing and keep playing. A change at the interval - especially one which left them so light in midfield - inevitably set the panic bells ringing.
But they stay alive to panic once more - and there surely will be plenty of nervous moments away to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
It is a re-run of the first World Cup final, Uruguay against Argentina in Montevideo's Centenario stadium - with the difference that at stake this time is not the trophy, but South America's last remaining automatic qualifying slot for next year in South Africa.
And if extra spice were needed, it's a game where both teams have the tools to hurt the other.
As they showed in fine style on Saturday, coming from behind to win away to Ecuador, Uruguay are a dangerous attacking force. Forlan and Suarez are a high-class duo, with options off the bench of the rangy Cavani and big Abreu for the aerial assault. No other side has scored as many goals at home as Uruguay. They will ask plenty of questions of the Argentine defence.
But with Uruguay pushing up looking to win, Argentina might be able to grab control of midfield. I would expect a return after suspension of Juan Sebastian Veron, who, if selected, faces one of the most important games of his long international career. If he can control possession he will not only be shielding his defence, but also providing the platform for Messi and Higuain.
A draw is good enough for Argentina - unless Ecuador win away to Chile by a five goal margin. But if Argentina lose, and Ecuador win by any score, then Maradona and his men will even miss out on the chance of a play-off.
Wednesday's forecast for Montevideo is for only light rain, so there is little chance of Maradona repeating his Gene Kelly celebrations if Argentina come through intact. But the Centenario stadium does have a huge tower, so maybe he'll go in for a parachute jump.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) There was an interesting interview with Stephen Ireland in one of the tabs, in which he stated that international football would become an anachronism, and top players would start to retire young from the "chore" of the international scene. I personally agree with him, and think the World Cup as we know it will be gone in 20-30 years (or sooner). It will probably be replaced by a genuine "World Club Cup" or "World Super League", (Corinthians v Arsenal, L'pool v Boca juniors, etc...).
What is the view in S. America? Is there appetite for a "global league"? Surely it's in their interests, financially, to break the European stranglehold on the game? The top clubs there could easily compete against English, Spanish or Italian opposition. Are South Americans generally more loyal to their club or country?
M W Goble
A) Over here it's true that diehard supporters are often not so into the national team. But for the rest of the population, even for many who are not normally football fans, the shirt of the national team is the most potent symbol of Brazil, Uruguay or Argentina.
I've seen the difference here between Brazil winning the World Cup and Corinthians winning the World Club title. The latter was football. The former is an event that transcends sport entirely and becomes a statement about a nation - for this reason international football will continue to have the power to reach more people on a deeper basis than the club game.
If Stephen Ireland had the chance to represent a nation of over 190 million all desperate to win the World Cup I doubt very much that he'd see it as a chore. He would probably view it as the highlight of his career.