“Oh crap, are they in riot gear?”
“Yeah, that’s definitely riot gear. I really think we should get out of here.”
“No, no let’s stay just a little longer.”
There were eight of them advancing on the crowd, shields raised. The second the crush of people I was trapped in noticed the S.W.A.T. team’s presence, they ceased attempting to fell the gates blocking their way, and went silent. The only voices that continued were from the few mothers holding children who pleaded for people to remain calm, whether it was directed towards the policemen or the men in the crowd, I don’t know. Somewhere beyond the line of clear Plexiglas shields in front of us two different shouts rose into the Buenos Aires night: “GGGGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!” and the answering inarticulate cries from the live audience.
Argentines are serious about their football. Before I left for my semester abroad and told people I was excited to be in Argentina for the World Cup, I was often met with confusion; “But it’s not being held in Argentina, it’s in Brazil.” I didn’t let this misunderstanding dim my enthusiasm; I knew that the Mundial would be a grand occasion in Argentina unlike any sporting event I’d ever witnessed. Subsequently it’s been one I’ve struggled to accurately relate to my friends and family in the U.S. One explanation I’ve heard made by other expats is that the World Cup is like the Super Bowl every day for a month. However, this doesn’t nearly encapsulate what the World Cup is to Argentines, and what it’s starting to mean to Americans. Here, everyone watches the Mundial, as many games as possible, regardless of who is playing. It is already assumed, expected even, that you will watch when Argentina is playing. Whether it’s on a weekend or midweek, in the evening or the middle of the day, the city grinds to a halt when la Selección (The Selection, or what many call the Argentine national football team) takes the pitch. The final classes of my history seminar at the University of Buenos Aires are completely dependent on how Argentina does in the World Cup. Schedules are re-arranged, shops are closed, public transportation is reduced to only what is necessary, the city government hosts watching parties in the plazas with 10 foot tall screens and closed gates that require small S.W.A.T. teams to keep the flow of entrants from turning into a stampede.
Ultimately my friend’s urge to stick around paid off and all six of us were allowed to watch the Argentina vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina match with about 300 other Argentines who had piled, with their vuvuzelas and argentine flags, in front of the projector screen at the Parque Centenario. The focus and enthusiasm which my fellow watchers had for all 90 minutes of this, Argentina’s 2014 Mundial debut, I’ve seen repeated time and again throughout this tournament. Walking down Florida Street, a main shopping drag in Buenos Aires, has been particularly difficult as every ten yards or so I have to navigate around groups of people huddled in front of a shop window or outside a restaurant, their necks craned to see the television screens inside.
Now that Argentina is through to the Quarter finals the packs that fill the streets and plazas will be bigger than ever, bar business will boom (provided they have televisions), and Argentines will slowly but surely paint the town celeste and white (the colors of the argentine flag and of la Selección’s uniforms). Following their win against Switzerland yesterday, the diarios (daily papers) were reporting on only one thing, the only thing that mattered, and I found myself chuckling as Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria’s faces smiled victoriously at me from the covers of every newspaper. It’s hard not to get caught up in it, the joy and excitement that borders on stress and fear. All we can do now is wait, hope, and pray for Saturday’s game against Belgium. I will be rooting for Argentina: an Argentine victory would be doubly sweet for me as it would simultaneously carry my adoptive country one step closer to the finals, and would be a small dose of justice for Belgium’s recent victory over the United States. If you need me on Saturday, it’ll have to wait because I, just like the rest of Argentina, will have a game to watch.