The football (soccer) World Cup in Qatar was controversial from the moment it was chosen to host the tournament back in 2010 with allegations of shady deals and later, human rights abuses. But I don’t think anyone can deny that the country put on a remarkable show and the matches themselves produced some of the most shocking surprises in World Cup history. Not least Argentina, unbeaten in 36 matches, were beaten 2-1 by Saudi Arabia in their first game of the tournament. Since I live in Argentina I can report that this result was seismic in shock value and brought back desperate memories of the team’s ragged performances in 2014 (Brazil) and 2018 (Russia). As it turns out, these were spectres that the Argentine team was determined to eradicate.
The Passion Of Argentines
After the aforementioned disastrous start, Argentina managed to reach the World Cup final, not by the skin of their teeth, but by sheer talent and dare I say it, passion.
Living in Argentina has completely changed my idea of ‘the passion’ and I now embrace it because it’s utterly contagious and beyond description.
When Argentina played Mexico, I hopped on my bike and rode into Buenos Aires, knowing that the entire country will have ground to a halt. And it did.
I passed by tiny cafeterias, with men and women wearing Messi’s #10 shirts, all glued to tiny TV screens, with police officers, their bikes parked, gawping at the TV, willing the team to score a goal.
At 64 minutes played, I just happened to arrive at a huge plaza next to the American Embassy, felt a roar of expectation, started filming and Messi scored the first goal. The huge crowd rose with roars of delight, the dust rising under their feet in front of the giant screens, with fans hugging each other in ecstasy.
It’s not just a game in Argentina. It’s an escape; a relief from the torture of double-talk and bullshit. And believe me, Argentines know a lot about that, having had their lives destroyed time after time and this is their way of dealing with the crap that is piled upon them. And boy, do they do it in style!
Football has a huge uniting effect in any country and all partisan barriers fall to the ground because they are seen as the imposters they really are.
The Hand Of Fate And Superstition
Reaching the World Cup final is a major milestone for any football team and when Argentina beat Holland, the country erupted in joy with millions of fans converging at the iconic obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio, the epicentre of Buenos Aires.
I spent the first 60 minutes of the final riding around the city on my motorcycle and absorbing the atmosphere. The streets were completely deserted, much like a scene from The Walking Dead, so I turned off the engine at traffic lights to listen for roars and cheers, which is when I saw a man run from a petrol station pumping his fists. Car horns honked and I knew Argentina had scored their first goal.
I was determined not to look at my phone in the hope of receiving news through the ether in the streets – the jungle drums if you will.
Never had silence been so ominous, but a few minutes later, at a set of lights in the suburbs, the buildings around me erupted in a roar and a motorcyclist pulled up alongside me and indicated the good news with two fingers – two goals for Argentina.
At half-time I stopped at a bar in near home and watched as men, women, and children, all wearing Messi shirts paced up and down, their heads either bowed or pointing to the heavens. No one spoke and all I could hear was the muffled sound of the TV commentary and the cheers of the fans in Qatar, yet I could feel a heavy tension in the air around me.
Stopping at other nearby bars, the scenes were the same – fans willing the team on with hands on heads at missed chances and near misses by both France and Argentina.
But it was time to head back and face the music.
On arriving back home, where my wife, her son, and his girlfriend were strung out and agonising over the remaining minutes at 2-0, France got that penalty and I was told to go forth and multiply. Well, they’re a superstitious lot, you know.
Then, just minutes later, Kylian Mbappe scored THAT goal at 81 minutes and I was cursed forever.
“Why did you have to come back, ffs???” they all asked, so I hung my head in shame.
With the tension being too much to bear, I wandered around outside, silently willing the team on, occasionally peering at the TV through the window, my knees having turned to jelly as the match went into extra time.
At 107 minutes and sitting on the grass opposite the house, I heard a mighty roar and it was 3-2. Messi had scored and I rushed back inside to celebrate, only to be pushed outside again. Clearly, that’s where I belonged, so sat down on the grass again, feeling like a naughty schoolboy.
Ten minutes later I heard an awful groan, saw hands on heads behind the curtains in the living room and knew that something disastrous had happened, so peered around the front door. Our Nemesis, Mbappe, had scored another penalty, meaning the nightmare scenario was looming – a penalty shoot-out was inevitable and my mind immediately flew back to 2014 and 2018.
Wisely, I then retired to the kitchen again, simply because that’s where I had been for the Netherlands shoot-out, so I was converted from curse to talisman, the remaining two protagonists slamming the door and ordering me not to leave on pain of death. I believed them.
Groans, followed by cheers, more cheers, then a roar, then an eruption and I knew we had done it. The door was opened and the spell was broken.
Tears were shed, many hugs were given and the street exploded outside our house. Cars packed with supporters rolled past, honking their horns, streaming flags and we danced in the street!
I felt honoured to have been in Argentina on such a momentous and happy occasion.
It’s Not Just A Game!
Say that to any sporting fan, be it football, soccer, baseball, or rugby and you’ll likely be shocked at the reaction. The names, Pele, Maradona, Messi, and others conjure up magic images of dazzling heroes and transcend the mundane.
On the Tuesday following the final, when the champions returned to Buenos Aires, over five million fans turned out to greet them, packing the streets, highways, and byways, shoulder to shoulder in a celebration never seen before. Naturally, the government wanted a hand in the victory and invited the team to Government House (Casa Rosada) in the famous Plaza de Mayo, but the team declined the offer, saying that the win was for the people, which is exactly as it should be.
Marc is an avid traveler, motorcyclist, entrepreneur, and gamer from Buenos Aires, Argentina. His interest in computers and technology began in the early 1990's when he was introduced by a friend to a Zenith Data Systems computer running DOS. In the years following he has experienced all versions of the Windows operating system, built hundreds of systems, and fixed many more for his customers.
Marc also has an interesting forum you might like to check out at Argentina Expats