Germany had hurricaned their way into the final, blowing away Brazil in spectacular fashion, whilst Argentina, had, in a way, just limped their way to the Maracana via extra-time goals, a borefest 1-0 and a penalty shoot-out victory.
But that in no way stopped thousands of Argentines flocking over the border to Brazil, many in their motor-homes, to come and see the spectacle and turn Rio de Janeiro blue and white for a day. Or perhaps a week. Arguably, Argentina was the country which brought most supporters to the World Cup, and they certainly made their presence felt throughout. Hardly any women among them, just men, some long-haired, all of them duly shirted in national colours, swigging Fernet (a kind of menthol licor) and Coke in their cut-in-half Coca Cola bottles, taking photos with large-assed Brazilian girls and just generally being lairy.
Much to the disdain of Brazilians. Decades of being the continent’s football heavyweights has created a unique sporting rivalry. There’s no military history behind it, unlike the beef all of Argentina’s other neighbours have with Buenos Aires, just pure footballing issues. As such, it was unthinkable that Argentina could go and win the World Cup. It might have pained Brazilians even more than the 1-7 battering handed out to them by Germany.
I’d been praying for a Brazil vs Argentina final and the subsequent mayhem, but that was not to be. I swayed between taking a liking to the Argentines’ mischievousness and football banter and being annoyed by their presence cranking up the male-female ratio to about 80-20 in the city. This all exemplified the Friday night before the final in Lapa, the neighbourhood which hosts street drunkenness every weekend and where I happened to be on that day.
As I said, too many bearded males made for a different atmosphere, meaning the whole night turned into one of those house parties you go to as a teenager where every girl is cornered and salivated over. Where I didn’t get any. We let them have their night, as did an inconspicuously low number of Brazilians out in Lapa, who probably couldn’t bear to be confronted by an Argentine party.
Yet there was still time for Argentine-led entertainment. We posed for photos with an extremely pissed guy babbling to himself and hugging a lamppost and then boarded a bus home full of pumped Argentines and a handful of Brazilians. And the Argentines absolutely handed Brazil’s behind to them in the chanting stakes. With an array of songs and jumping up and down which made the bus journey even rockier than usual, they brought me those goosebumps that football so often brings upon you. And partly because of that, and also to go against pompous Brazilian fans, I definitively decided to back the Albiceleste in the final against the Germans the following day. The hilarious sight of a shirtless hairy beast slumped on Copacabana, beach-bought prawns in one hand and his open mouth, a beer miraculously held upright in the other and a Messi-10 shirt wrapped around his head in a bandana for the Brazil-Netherlands third-place play-off game the following day meant there was no way I was gonna change allegiances.
On the day of the match, most of my Brazilian friends evidently didn’t want to risk being present just in case Argentina won, so I ended watching the game with just the one buddy. We were late for the game, getting onto the beach with only about 15 minutes until kick-off, so we settled for a spot towards the back of the immense crowd with had gathered to watch the game on the smaller of the big screens erected. Pre-match, after some hesitation, I’d swapped my Falcao Colombia shirt for a Messi one with an old Argentine fella, just for the hell of it and to get on the football brother-in-arms bandwagon. My rule is that one can only ever trade things that one has bought. Luckily, I’d got hold of a fake shirt at Uruguaiana market, so I was all go for the game, and now appropriately dressed to support Argentina. The less said about how the shirt was about 3 sizes too big for me, the better.
Onto the game and as we all know, it wasn’t the most spectacular of contests, much in following from a lack of goals in the knockout phase, even if drama had been definitely prevalent. When Higuain bagged, or so we all thought until it was ruled out for offside, I was completely drenched in the aforementioned Fernet and coke as the Argentines tossed whatever was in their hands into the air. Why I didn’t go all out for Deutschland after that, I don’t know, but for subsequent days full of a cold and being bed-bound, I lay the blame squarely at the feet of whoever wetted me.
The game went on, Rio de Janeiro colder and windier than it had ever been, and I found my shivering self wishing that the game would end in the 90. Strange that I was praying for the final whistle in a game that I’d been looking forward too for years, but there goes evidence that one needs to wrap up at football games – they always find a way of being cold. My experiences at battlegrounds such as Tranmere, Grimsby and Lincoln in Leagues One and Two should have taught me that.
In extra-time, as we all know, Gotze fired in the winner for the Germans. Cue absolute mayhem. The tension which had been brewing between raucous Argentines and German-for-one-day Brazilians hit boiling point and I suddenly knew it because a tide of people came surging towards me. I just stood still and let fleeing people pass me on their way towards the water (drowning wasn’t on my agenda) and looked over to where they had come from to see what was going on. As we were on the beach, and not in the official FIFA Fan Fest, the area wasn’t really policed at all, so something had clearly kicked off and bottles, cans, chairs, and whatever came to hand were being chucked around. This meant I effectively missed the rest of the game, and we started to make our way away from the crowds. Such was the hypothermia overwhelming me, I opted against hanging around for the trophy presentation.
And then a strange thing happened. Bunches of Argentines were obviously upset about the defeat, and apparently not all of them respond in violent ways. I spotted a young Argentine crying his heart out. He suddenly slumped to his knees as if he didn’t want to go on living and a mate went down to pick him up, but also broke down in tears and they started hugging. Others then came along and started to protest with the two not to be downbeat and to get on with it. But in the midst of their attempts to console them, their voices also broke to the verge of crying. Now, I don’t what came over me, as I never cry. Never. Over anything. Yet this emotional chain of sobbing somehow got to me, and I felt my eyes watering.
Thus my excuse to say that’s what football can do to us. For those that aren’t in love with the game, they’ll never quite understand how men (and sometimes women) can be reduced to such fragile beings on the back of a defeat. But there are special moments in football which go beyond the sport itself, and for a time, however briefly, we are all united.
As soon as I realised I was crying, I hastily took off and headed back towards the street to get something to eat.