Do not wave the match tickets and put your press card away for a while. Walking to the Arena de São Paulo for the Netherlands-Argentina semi-final at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a few foreign journalists warned each other with a wink: watch your accreditation before an Argentinian fan snatches it from your hands.
Throughout the stadium, Argentines took place on the steps, so that they could be just a little closer to their heroes. The stewards continuously directed fans back to their seats. Ninety minutes of shouting and drumming. A heated, not always friendly, football evening in which Argentina reached the final after penalties.
For Argentines, the atmosphere was nothing new. Noise, singing and shouting. This is also the case at the World Cup in Qatar. Books have been written about the clashes between Boca Juniors and River Plate. An average Argentinian league game feels like a matter of life and death. The soccer culture in Argentina is second to none.
The stray dogs of Buenos Aires will sniff around the capital in surprise around four o’clock local time the day after tomorrow, when the Netherlands and Argentina meet in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The majority of the thirteen million inhabitants are then in front of the television.
“When Argentina plays, there is actually no one on the street here in Buenos Aires,” says journalist Remi Lehmann. “Most Argentines watch at home with their family. If they have to work, they watch at work. The children who are at school watch at school or are allowed to go home earlier.”
View the summary of Argentina – Australia here
In Europe, eyebrows are raised when Moroccan fans take to the streets after a victory. In South America they see it happen every week. If Argentina beats the Dutch national team, the avenues full. “You saw that after the game against Australia. With other sports it is less. The real passion comes out especially in football,” says Lehmann.
Football is religion, Messi the god and La Albiceleste the apostles. The ordinary Argentinian doesn’t want to miss a second of it, and he doesn’t have to. “Five channels have traveled to Qatar, one of which even broadcasts 24 hours a day. When you turn on the TV or the radio, it is: ‘Qatar, Qatar, Qatar, Messi, Messi, Messi’,” says Lehmann.
“If the president wants to send a political message, he carefully schedules it so that it comes on TV when there are no live games. Otherwise, no one is watching.” Football and politics are closely linked in Argentina anyway.
“Not so much with the players, they are mainly concerned with the tournament. But you can see it with fans. Here Argentina’s victory over England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1986 is really seen as a revenge for the loss of the Falklands War .” That lost battle for the Islas Malvinas, as the Argentines call the archipelago, bubbles up as soon as the English flag approaches in the knockout system.
Within national borders, a victory or defeat can easily shake up the political system. “Some people here think that it is bad for the popularity of the government if Argentina is eliminated early. Or the other way around, if Argentina were to become world champions now, the government can count on a significant boost in the polls.” Lionel Messi with the World Cup, it would not be bad for the Argentine government after Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner embezzled a billion dollars.
National football god Diego Maradona was an outspoken socialist. The greatest Argentine footballer ever openly flirted with Hugo Chavez, had a Fidel Castro tattoo on his calf and Che Guevara on his upper arm. Messi is also covered in tattoos, but politically charged ink is not among them.
In fact, Messi never talks about his political affiliations. He didn’t come more daring than a call on social media for corona vaccinations. Messi only concentrates on the ball. And the unhinged Argentinian fans travel the world after him.
“Some Argentines have sold their cars to be here with God Messi”
The current place of pilgrimage is Doha. Argentines are said to have sold their car so that they can afford a trip to Qatar. The tax authorities are hot on the heels of Argentines who paid their entrance tickets and airline tickets with black money. Approaching economic crisis or not, if Messi plays, they have to go.
With twenty thousand strong, the Argentines roar in the stands. Still, it didn’t matter in the first game against Saudi Arabia. “There was a bit of criticism,” says Lehmann. “From ‘hey, those people should encourage more’. And go, the second game we saw the bravas bar (organized supporter groups, ed.) in the stands.”
Die good bar‘s are often not sweethearts. “Argentina has forwarded a list to the Qataris of 6,300 people who, according to them, should not enter the country. It contains hooligans, people who have a stadium association and have committed other crimes.”
“Of brava’s bar that you now see in Qatar are not the most notorious, but the second or third line of those hard cores. They will mainly be concerned with encouraging and not with the violence and shady dealings that they normally conduct in Argentina. It’s a treat for them too.”
A sweet trip that should end with the World Cup. “A dream final against England, to teach ‘those pirates of the Malvinas’ a lesson again, the Argentines like it,” says Lehmann. “But, they will immediately say, we will first have to beat the Netherlands.”