Rugby league’s fittest Latino, Alvaro Alarcon, ripped off a moonboot to lead El Salvador to a 48-10 victory over Colombia in a match which made rugby league history on several fronts.
Salvadoran skipper Alarcon was one of three players on his side to grab a brace of tries, despite suffering what appeared to be a serious foot injury just 13 days before.
In a fiery encounter between the two emerging nations, there was much to like about the performances of both sides, despite Colombia’s heavy loss in the Brisbane suburb of Rochedale.
The Colombians played with a team entirely born on Colombian soil – becoming the first Latin American nation to play in Australia with a 100 per cent homegrown team.
The tricolores also played their third international match in a 12-month period, following a last-up 22-18 win against Brazil and a 36-4 defeat on debut against Argentina.
Meanwhile, El Salvador’s victory gave them back-to-back wins, following a similarly comprehensive 46-10 win against Uruguay, meaning the tiny Central American nation can no longer be considered ‘surprise packets’ of the international scene.
Mostly a mix of refugees and sons of refugees from a brutal 13-year civil war, the Salvadoran league team has become a welcome symbol of pride and unity for their people.
It is characterised by an intense camaraderie within the team, a strong off-field administration and a dedication to fitness led by three sets of brothers within the team.
Indeed, the game was all the more enjoyable for the family of the Maatouk brothers, with Mikey Maatouk (2), Anthony Maatouk and Alfred Maatouk all crossing for tries in the one game.
Crossfit fanatic Alvaro Alarcon was the spearhead of most attacking raids at halfback, having played as a wing and centre for the combined Latin American Confederation at the recent Emerging Nations World Championship.
He combined well with wide-running sibling Michael, who played alongside him at five-eighth, while the Mendoza brothers – Oscar and Rafael – were two of the biggest metre-eaters for their squad, along with powerful Carlos Reyes Kiwi Kiwi.
The family affair was not constrained to the players however.
Referee Sean Teuma was joined on the touch lines by father Ray and brother Brad in officiating duties.
A vocal crowd swelled throughout the contest and it was noted how quickly the non-partisan Australian fans warmed to the contest and quickly took sides in a match that had to be calmed several times.
The introduction of niggly substitutes Chris Castro for El Salvador and Steven Ospitia for Colombia tipped the game over the edge briefly, though both players also did plenty of good things with hard-edged, legal play.
After playing a big role in organising the Colombian squad, forwards Sebastian Maya Jimenez and Juan David Espinal were two of the hardest triers for their side.
Chiming in from fullback, Ignacio Manzano was another to impress in his first international, while fellow debutants Jose Vasquez and Jose Rivera made it onto the scoresheet and brought the Colombian fans alive.
The Condores played without key men Andrew Zuluaga (prop) and Alex Eastman (halfback) due to conflicting commitments for both players, and minus second-rower Yeison Alejandro Munevar after his visa was delayed in approval.
Going into the match El Salvador had been ranked number 37 in RLIF rankings, while Colombia was situated 40th.
EL SALVADOR 48 (Mikey Maatouk 2, Alvaro Alarcon 2, Carlos Reyes Kiwi Kiwi 2, Albert Maatouk, Anthony Maatouk, Sebastian Schubert-Ariaza tries; Oscar Mendoza 4, Michael Zamora-Rivera, Francisco Godinez goals) def COLOMBIA 10 (Jose Vasquez, Jose Rivera tries; Nicolas Perico Daza goal) at Underwood Park, Rochedale, Brisbane. Referee: Sean Teuma.
Team lists (in positional order):
EL SALVADOR: Anthony Maatouk, Albert Maatou9ck, Oscar Mendoza, Carlos Reyes Kiwi Kiwi, Michael Zamora-Rivera, Michael Alarcon, Alvaro Alarcon ©, Fredy Arteaga-Figueroa, Mikey Maatouk, Rafael Mendoza, Marcus Guzman, Frankcisco ‘Paco’ Godinez, Sebastian Schubert-Ariaza. Interchange: Chris Castro, Johnny Monge, Elisardo Fernandez Lara, Brandon Rodriguez. Coach: Arthur Vernon. Assistants: Daniel Godinez, Chris Reid, Lee Munt.
COLOMBIA: Ignacio Manzano, Diego Gil Vejerano, Milton Mosquera, Elver Rodriguez, Jose Vasquez, Nicolas Perico Daza, Daniel Sarmiento ©, Juan David Espinal, Sebastian Martinez, Daniel Rickard, Daniel Mejia, Sebastian Maya Jimenez, Bryan Mancilla. Interchange: Steven Ospitia, Luis Romero, Jose Rivera, Adrian Oviedo. Coach: Darryl Russell. Assistants: Brad Millar.