Jul 01

VIDEO: Soccer matters most

by in Argentina

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Tonight Matias Piazza, my soccer watching buddy, asked me, “In all of your travels have you ever known a country where the passion for the futbol is so strong?”

He was referring to the euphoria passing through the city of Córdoba tonight, as it celebrates Argentina’s nail-biting victory over Switzerland today. Even as the 2014 World Cup has put fans from all countries on full display, I ask, Could there be a place were soccer matters more than Argentina?

“I think that the soccer here is more than in Brazil,” Matias said.

(below is some raw video of the crowd at the bar where I watched the game. Suggestion: turn down the volume before hitting play)

That it was Tuesday and I slept late didn’t seem to matter because, approaching noon, nobody was picking up their phones. There were many bad things to think about in Argentina this morning: the Vice President has been formally charged by the high court for corruption and abuse of power; the country has finally caved in to demands from a New York hedge fund (called fondos buitres or vulture funds here) and a multi-year lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court to pay the first $1.6 billion of interest payments in order to avoid defaulting on loans from 2001. Experts say the country is likely to pay $30 billion before clearing its debt. But none of those stories ran on page one of today’s newspaper, because all anyone wants to talk about in Argentina right now is the Argentine Selection and the very real possibility of it winning the World Cup.

Today Argentina beat Switzerland 1-0 in the first of the single elimination rounds, the Octavos, and advanced to the quarterfinals.

Patio Olmos Mundial

The scene in front of Patio Olmos in downtown Córdoba will be a perpetual parade until either Argentina is knocked out or wins the World Cup 2014. If they win this spot will be very dangerous.

It was ten minutes before 1 p.m. and the streets of Córdoba were deserted. Restaurants and bars normally full at this hour had closed their doors, employees gone to some place holier than “work” to watch the game.

I kept walking. Block after block of empty streets. Only the convenience stores were open. Behind robber bars, distracted attendants were adjusting their chairs for the opening kickoff, which they would watch on a TV set between stacks of alfajores and potato chips. I knew, from previous experiences, that the official contingency in Córdoba, Argentina’s second largest city, would congregate in front of Patio Olmos, so I had a friend reserve a seat.

I took my place just at kick off, my barstool like a floatey chair in a calm bay of blue and white flags and Lionel Messi jerseys; a rabble of grimy soccer fans come down from the rough neighbourhoods of the south, young men painted to look like blue and white indian warriors, old men seated in lawn chairs outside the bars – the cheap seats – wearing jump suits and watching the game on a scramble of widescreen TVs someone had hung haphazardly at the corner of the avenues.

We, the collective consciousness of soccer love, sat through an agonizing 117 minutes of stiff Swiss defense. As has been the story with all of Argentina’s games, opponents have smartly fixated on nothing more than shutting down Argentina’s offense, shutting down Lionel Messi.

Somewhere in those final moments (the overtime went to 120 minutes and then the game were to be decided through a shootout, which is as arbitrary a way of deciding the game as flipping a coin) a woman yelled, “Haga la *pulga,” – “Do the flea,” and the 5’7″ striker, crowded by defenders pushed the ball to his skinny companion Ángel Di María, who shot it through the back of the net.

The town erupted. Small bombs were lit in the street by thuggish teenagers but their sounds were lost in the thunderclap of shouting and the pounding of our fists on table tops. Men kissed other men they’d only known an hour. Women were besides themselves as if someone had proposed marriage. And the steady rhythm of yelling captured us all.

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Fans of Argentina’s Selection crowd the streets of downtown Córdoba after its win over Switzerland to advance to the quarterfinals|photo by brandon c janes iv

I remember an announcer saying (in Spanish of course) “Saint Paul needed and angel today and he found it in Angel Di Maria…. This announcer’s heart is going to burst from his chest.”

Before long, we were all out on the streets, rich and poor, coverered in flags and dancing together, celebrating survival. Youths continued throwing their bombs into the crowd, which would scatter each time like synchronous fish at the sign of danger. And then, after it burst, we would all scream and crowd together.

“Brazil is the mythical land of soccer,” Matias said. “We know how to play and how to play well when we are there.”

Hard to believe it is only Tuesday.

*Pulga is one Messi nickname

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2 Responses to “VIDEO: Soccer matters most”

  1. From Daniel Kott:

    Still following your activities from here in Texas.

    Posted on July 2, 2014 at 7:34 pm #
  2. From Chaison:

    Great piece about real soccer fans. Keep the articles coming.

    Posted on July 3, 2014 at 9:46 am #

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