A brief guide on how to avoid the pitfalls of not knowing a thing about the national game…
I don’t like football.
I don’t like how long the game takes. I don’t like how any actual game time takes part in about 33 per cent of the entire game. I don’t like how every time any of the players get a nudge they throw themselves on the ground weeping and pleading for empathy. I especially don’t like how offended people get when you call it soccer instead of football.
Actually, I am partial to a bit of Cristiano Ronaldo – but that has nothing to do with how he plays the game…
So it seemed fitting that our trip to Argentina, the first country on the list of our six-month South/ North American tour, be centred around the be-all and end-all of 2014 South American life: the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Not planned, at all.
Football is more indoctrinated in Argentina than rugby could even come close to. No, rugby to New Zealand is not a comparison, and you will be told so whenever you bring it up. Richie McCaw has nothing on Lionel Messi. That man has a larger following, and has more sway, than any political figure. Messi is what would be created if Richie and Brendon McCullum had a lovechild. And it was awesome at soccer.
The day after we arrived, in an over-excited travellers hostel in Buenos Aires we witnessed the host country suffer a devastating loss to the Germans. And while it ‘wasn’t the result we wanted’, all of a sudden, with the aid of alcohol and some fairly entertaining crowd members, we were into it.
And then suddenly we were there for another game. Sipping (probably a liberal term, “barely whetting our lips with” might be more accurate) South America’s answer to a Long Island Iced Tea (five shots of what I can only guess was paintstripper, and maybe half a shot of Raro, of which the name escapes me), the impassioned crowd later screamed and yelled for 90 minutes of Brazil’s humiliation.
Perhaps this soccer thing isn’t so bad after all? Sorry, football.
Afterwards, by way of jet lag and upbeat music for the homeland’s match ahead, we headed out for a night on the town in the hardcore-partying renowned Buenos Aires. (Postscript: We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto – in BA they deal in wine bottles, not glasses, and the clubs don’t OPEN until 2am.) Needless to say, after making some new friends and probably half a bottle too many of $3 red – the next day was far from pretty. Being brutally hungover in a country you don’t know how to order a 6-pack of Original Recipe from or find Pitch Perfect in a local DVD store in is less than ideal.
Being that that day was the Argentina v Netherlands semi-final, making our way down to the fan-zone took every ounce of the willpower we had. In fact, I think my body only left the hostel couch under the promise of a sausage in bread smothered in mayonnaise and chips (Choripan, otheriwse known as Argentina’s best invention. Forget Lionel Messi for a second).
At the time, the capital had set up a bunch of open-air cinemas for people to watch the game, scattered around the city. And what followed is likely going to be the experience that sticks with me whenever someone says the word ‘football’, from here on out.
Most of the actual 0-0 game was uneventful – despite the thousands of people cloaked in blue and white, and the never-ending “oohs” and “aahs”. But when that penalty shootout began, man – I don’t think I’ve ever been that tense.
Whether we were terrified of riots and toppling landmarks following a defeat or not (there was a good contingent of riot police in attendance, only disconcerting if you let it) – the moment the game finished, we were jumping and screaming as emphatically as the actual Argentines beside us. Fanatics flooded the streets, banging on shop windows, cars tooting in reply, the world’s widest street being completely shut down by millions of crazed fans drunk on success…. it was the biggest party we’d ever seen.
And then they had to go and lose the final.
Knowing full well the wrath of Argentine football fans we may face should the team lose, we situated ourselves on the border between Brazil and Argentina at Puerto Iguazu for the match. Yes, this one was planned.
At a bar in the town the fans were excited, the chanting was non-stop, the beer was flowing – until the second Germany scored that historic game clincher. From there on out, there was only a dull silence until the ref blew the whistle – and absolute pandemonium ensued.
I’m not sure if the hundreds of people pouring onto the streets, hordes of motorbikes backfiring, sirens sounding and streets being shut down was a celebration of a campaign well done, or a riot because they lost – but either way, we were dodging reckless fans as we left that bar left, right and centre.
There was a lot of screaming, and a lot of yelling things we couldn’t understand. The roads in the small town clogged up almost immediately with people standing on the decks of trucks, waving flags and motorbikes backfiring. We ran-walked as discretely as we could back to our accommodation.