Video: Argentina fans taking over Maracana and having the time of their lives
The Maracanã is under siege. For a place of magic, Brazil’s football cathedral is a magnet for a curse.
The 1950 World Cup final defeat against Uruguay will return to haunt the hosts if the tens of thousands of Argentina fans camped in Rio de Janeiro end up celebrating victory with their bawdy rendition of Bad Moon Rising and its multiple insults to the home of Jogo Bonito.
In their VW camper vans, chaotically packed, an unshaven army of Argentines has flooded into Rio to drink, taunt, chant and parade their country’s outlaw shtick.
The apocalypse of an Argentina victory over Brazil in the final was averted by German brilliance and Brazilian ineptitude in the Belo Horizonte semi-final. But if the Germans fall in Rio, the city’s mayor will still be tempted to revive his threat to “kill” himself to escape Argentine triumphalism.
Only an Argentina player, you might think, could tell reporters that he injured his “anus” making a match-saving tackle, as Javier Mascherano did after stopping an Arjen Robben run late in the Sao Paulo semi-final.
On the beaches of Rio this weekend, Brazilian children are still observing the religion of keepy-uppy and sandy small-sided games. Yet the tone of the city is now overwhelmingly Argentine, with 140 motor homes parked in Rio’s Sambadrome and a further camp site set up in Apoteosis Square.
Along Copacabana, which expresses Brazilian languor, Argentina’s fans have added an antagonistic edge, flooding the Fifa fanfest and attempting to park their campers on the sacred Atlantica Avenue, which the city has no wish to see turned into Little Buenos Aires.
A promise by Rio’s Tourism Department to roll out “a red carpet” was doubtless made through gritted teeth. There is no escaping the potential for conflict as some Argentines scrawl ‘7-1’ on their chests and sing the adapted Credence Clearwater Revival toe-tapper, Bad Moon Rising:
“How do you feel, Brazil, having your daddy at home?” and “Maradona was greater than Pele.” The Argentine Pope Francis is another stick used by the visitors to goad the hosts.
If this all sounds tedious from a distance, it does at least shine a light on the antipathies of South American football and culture as well as Argentina’s outlaw pose, which is perfectly expressed by Diego Maradona, genius and villain.
Julio Grondona, the 83‑year-old president of the Argentine Football Association, has survived numerous scandals to remain in charge since 1979.
When Lionel Messi scored the winning goal against Iran here, Maradona had already left the stadium and Grondona ascribed the goal to the lifting of the Maradona “jinx”.
El Diego responded by raising his middle digit on Venezuelan television and saying: “Poor stupid man.” Similarly Mascherano has become the rugged counterpoint to Messi.
He is depicted as Che Guevara and the Argentine independence hero, Jose de San Martin. Back in England meanwhile Pablo Zabaleta is lionised by Manchester City fans, who sing: “Pablo Zabaleta, he is a f------ man, he comes from Argentina, he’s harder than Jaap Stam.”
At the centre of this machismo is a resilient Argentina side with a defence better than anyone expected and a forward line less potent than it appeared on paper. Mascherano and the back four are resistance personified.
Gonzalo Higuaín, Ezequiel Lavezzi and the injured Sergio Agüero on the other hand have left only a faint mark on the tournament. Ángel di María missed the semi-final and remains a doubt for the Maracanã. Messi, the artist, the redeemer, is playing in brilliant spurts.
Alejandro Sabella’s side have travelled a rocky path against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria, Iran, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland, who played conservatively in their semi-final.
So Argentina have still not been fully attacked by a superpower opponent, which will change when Germany jog out at the Maracanã. Their defensive barriers may not look so robust when players of the calibre of Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller are probing them.
For now, though, Argentina are flexing their pecs and taking over Rio, where the front page of the sports daily Lance! declared a marriage between Brazil and Germany. “Germans since we were little children,” it announced. Then: “Germany ended the dream of a sixth championship for Brazil. Let them now prevent Argentina’s third championship!”
Although this is a Germany‑Argentina final, there are really three countries in the relationship. Brazil are painfully absent but also ever present. “It’s special for us to play in this country – especially because Brazilian fans have been against Argentina for this World Cup,” Zabaleta said.
“Sometimes, if you have all the people against you, you feel even stronger. I think that we showed that against Holland and we feel very proud to have made the final.”
The Maradona-Pele debate is endless and unresolvable, but Brazil can at least respond that they have won five World Cups to Argentina’s two. The 1,668 miles that separate Rio from Buenos Aires have shrunk to inches this weekend. Argentina shirts pack neighbourhood cafés where only ‘Cariocas’ normally gather. Brazilian workers engage in sporadic verbal skirmishes with Argentine fans, many of whom care little for local sensibilities.
“You can imagine people from Argentina selling their cars to come here, even without tickets,” Zabaleta said. “This is something that happens in Argentina. We love football. We know how special it would be for this country to win another World Cup.
“But obviously we appreciate how Argentinian fans are doing everything to support the team. As a player, I feel very proud. Everyone feels very proud. Hopefully we can give them another trophy.”
This has been a World Cup of largely sanitised spectating: Mexican waves, face paint and fans obsessed with seeing themselves on the big screen, even during penalty shoot-outs. In FifaVille, watching the World Cup is an entertainment experience – an exercise in consumption – at high prices. As the modern game seeks to pull away from the old venom and tribalism, the old antipathies show up in new forms, and via different means.
They come over the border in battered vans, expressing a spontaneity that cannot be erased by global marketing. The World Cup is still the people’s tournament. What Argentina’s fans lack in sophistication they make up for in authenticity.