Monday, October 20, 2014

Argentina v Brazil

Neighbors and Rivals

What's that you say? Argentina never played Brazil in the 2014 World Cup? Pish. It's all a matter of perspective.

I'll admit, I am not a fan of Argentina's national team. Modern-day Maradona is always good for a laugh, but growing up in the United States, it was Pele who was revered. (Pele playing in the US versus Maradona getting busted for performance-enhancing drugs in the US may have something to do with that.) Argentina played the role of the villain - or underdog, depending on who you talk to - in the '98 World Cup beautifully. But the biggest reason I am not a fan of Argentina is a slightly dumb one.

This dumb, smug face.

I am a fan of Real Madrid. Therefore, while I can recognize that Messi is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime sort of player, the sight of his hobbity face makes me want to throw things. He is frequently set up by the media as the angel to Cristiano Ronaldo's demon, the two locked in an epic battle that Messi will always win - you know, being the angel of the narrative and stuff. And while that story has gotten a bit stale over the past few years, someone on my twitter feed put it best when she said...


So when my favorite Argentinian player, Angel Di Maria, was injured, I pretty much threw my hands up and allowed myself to go into full-on "Anyone but Argentina," mode.

Regardless of how I felt about the team, watching Argentines root for their national team was lots of fun. In Buenos Aires, I hurried through empty streets to find a restaurant with a TV before Argentina v Belgium kicked off. When the host told me, kindly, that the restaurant was hosting a private viewing party, I asked if I could sit at the open-air bar. I ended up next to a group of elderly men meeting for coffee. They were amused by the American girl who was clearly into this game. I ordered a steak - it wasn't great - and a Bloody Mary - it was really thin - but what mattered was the action on the screen. Shortly after I was served, the host came back and told me there was room if I wanted to join the party. I had my food and was comfortable under the giant heat lamps, so I declined. He returned with a blue and white hat, for which I grinned and thanked him, but did not wear.

Shop window in Puerto Iguazu.

Back at my apartment after the match, I could hear what I thought must be the world's largest traffic jam on Avenida 9 de Julio. Then it dawned on me - the incessant honking was for the win. But it wasn't just Buenos Aires who knew how to celebrate... after watching the snooze-inducing match between Argentina and the Netherlands (another team I'm not a fan of), Puerto Iguazu went into total party mode. Fireworks were set off. Cars and motorcycles flew through the streets, drivers waving banners and laying on their horns. Even the tour buses joined in. People spilled out of bars, jubilant and singing.


From there, I flew to Rio, and suddenly, Argentina's act wasn't so cute.

In Argentina, you saw families - kids, parents, grandparents - getting into the games and celebrations. But by and large, only men between the ages of 20 and 50 had made the long drive up to Rio. Scores of them camped out in the Sambadrome. One evening, Debora and I drove in circles around Leme, searching for a parking space. There were none - the Argentina fans had moved in, parking their cars and living out of them for the weekend. According to Debora, Cariocas weren't too happy - their longtime rivals had also taken over the gas stations and the beaches, using the Atlantic Ocean as a toilet when Rio's facilities proved too meager for their numbers.

Like the conquistadors, claiming the beach.

All that was annoying at best and a public safety hazard at worst. But then there was the song...

I'd heard it a few times before, but only managed to pick out words here and there. (Like 'gasolina', which tipped me off that this was a trolly song to begin with.) But as a bunch of Argentina fans crammed into our subway car and started to sing and jump until the train shook, I watched the lips of dignified Brazilian grandmas purse, and saw others glare.

Debora translated the song for me behind her hand. And while I don't remember the exact lyrics, the general gist was, "Pele sucks and Brazil is Argentina's b****."

In case you didn't watch the World Cup, but somehow have made it this far through this story, Brazil had flamed out in epic fashion a few days earlier. Germany had beaten them, 7 to 1. If you don't know soccer, this score is generally unheard of in major international tournaments, unless the loser is San Marino or Tahiti or Qatar (ahem). Argentina fans provoked Brazilians by holding up seven fingers - Brazilians turned it around, saying it reflected how many World Cups each country had won (Brazil's five to Argentina's two).

Newly-minted Germany fans.

Suddenly, Debora and I were both Germany fans. I commented on the humor in this, as Germany had beaten both my team and her team on the way to the final, and yet, we were still rooting for them. Germany had also been smart... their away jersey for this year was patterned after a local team's, so Flamingo fans didn't even have to buy a new shirt in order to look like they were rooting for the Germans. Lukas Poldolski so endeared himself to Brazilians on twitter, there were jokes that President Dilma Rousseff would revoke his passport and make him stay. Walking around before the final in search the prized souvenir of the day - a flower crown - I found a couple in Brazilian yellow and a ton in Argentina's albiceleste, but none in Germany's red, yellow, and black. They were sold out.

Image by AP Photo/Bruno Magalhaes.

The restaurant where we ended up had an undetermined wait time. As we stood out front watching the game, I counted several half-empty tables. Had this been the USA, those tables would have been separated (they were two-person cafe tables stuck together under tablecloths) and filled immediately to maximize profit, but eh, this is Brazil... that would be rude and unnecessary. We managed to be seated thirty minutes into the game. This particular restaurant was known for its pizza, but seeing as it was the World Cup final, the pizza man had the day off. I don't even remember what we ordered, aside from two capirinhas apiece.

Showing our true colors.

The restaurant seemed to be split down the middle. We were in the Germany section, thank everything. Argentina had a goal - their fans were on their feet - but it was disallowed. We cheered. It took Germany long enough - into extra time - but finally, Mario Gotze scored. We were ecstatic. As empty buses rumbled by, shrieks of joy erupted from the beachfront restaurants on Copacabana.



From there, we headed down to the beach. A small group of Germany fans had set up at the far end of Leme, wisely avoiding the Argentina-heavy fanfest further down the beach. As we walked, we met loads of happy fans, including a couple walking their German Shepherd wrapped in a German flag. Once on the beach, I ran down to the water. I know that's a New Year's thing in Rio, but it seemed appropriate.


After soaking in Germany's joy for a while, we headed off to look for a cab. The streets were filled with disgruntled (and occasionally drunk) Argentina fans. We saw a couple almost-fights, but most people behaved themselves. And while Germany had won the World Cup, in the end, the nation of Brazil didn't make out too badly either.

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