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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

FIFA World Cup: Cross-border rivalry reignites

Argentina have won 2 World Cups while the Brazilans have won 5.

Written by Aditya Iyer | Updated: June 7, 2018 10:24:33 am
An Argentine fans holds a newspaper showing a dejected David Luiz after Brazil's 7-1 loss to Germany in the semi-finals. (Source: AP) Rubbing salt in the wounds: An Argentine fans holds a newspaper showing a dejected David Luiz after Brazil’s 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals. (Source: AP)

Sergio Romero, Argentina’s goalkeeper and hero in the penalty shootouts, arrived below the throngs of Argentines in the Arena Corinthians shortly after his saves had placed the Albiceleste in their first World Cup final in 24 years.

Then, Romero yanked his fluorescent yellow keeping suit off and swirled it in the drenched air, even as the thousands placed above him did the same – with a heart-felt song in their throats.

At first, it seemed like Argentina’s manic supporters were singing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’ to a dancing Romero. But, of course, they weren’t.

Set to the same tune of the late ‘60s CCR hit, they were roaring something far nastier, something that Bob Dylan would’ve been mighty proud of. “Brasil, decime qué se siente” they sang and danced and swirled their scarves to, loosely translated as “Brazil, tell me what it feels like”.

‘Siente’, means ‘feel’ in Spanish, a word awfully similar to ‘Siete’, which means seven in Latin America.

And seven is a number that no Brasileiro wanted to hear on Wednesday, not a day after they had suffered as many goals against Germany in a debacle of a semifinal. But try telling that to the ruthless fans from across the border, who happily and often switched siente with siete, asking the man on Brazil’s street just what conceding seven felt like.

And every time FIFA they did, goalie Romero pointed at the yellow jersey in his fist-giggling and slyly winking away to the sea of support in front of him. Soon, the rest of Argentina’s history-creating side joined Romero into the merry-making, including Lionel Messi.

Just as the Barcelona sensation had jumped his first few steps with a clap in his hands, the chanting hordes began the chorus of their most sinister song — “Messi es más grande que Neymar”. ‘Messi, you’re far greater than Neymar’.

Messi shrugged, then shied into a gleeful smile. Not just because he was being told that he was better than Brazil’s injured number 10, but mainly due to the fact that the original lyrics of the chorus spoke of how ‘Maradona was far greater than Pele’.

It was a symbolic moment for Messi, for finally Argentina had replaced Diego Maradona’s name with his own.

For far too long, Messi was considered an outsider in his own country.As a 13-year old, he had left his home town of Rosario to train at La Masia, Barcelona’s highly specialised youth academy. And by the age of 18, he was widely considered as the face of world football.

During his early career, the Argentines were still happy to tell anyone listening that Messi was indeed Maradona’s reincarnation.

But Maradona had won them the World Cup in 1986 and taken them to another final in 1990. Both, incidentally, came against Germany — Argentina’s fellow finalists in 2014.

Messi, despite winning 21 titles for his beloved Catalan club, had no such boasts when in the blue and white of the Albiceleste. In the previous two World Cups that he had featured in (2006 and 2010), Argentina had crashed out in the quarterfinals. And again, on both occasions it was to the team they will meet on Sunday at the Maracana.

The Brasileiro, as you would’ve guessed, is well aware of that fact.

‘German’ Brazilians

“If Germany beat Argentina again to win the World Cup, I will be the happiest man on planet earth,” claimed Jefferson, a sulky cafe owner in Vila Madalena, the cultural hub of Sao Paulo.

A couple of hours after the match, his cafe has been invaded by the chanting Argentines, just as every other shop, restaurant, park and square in the city had. In order to hush them up, Jefferson thumped his fists on his cashier’s table and screamed: “Alemania! Alemania!”

A few in the vicinity joined Jefferson, but the herd of Argentines found their switch in allegiance hilarious, quickly reminding all that just yesterday, that very Alemania had crushed their team and country with seven humiliating goals.

And this they did by bursting out into a song: “Brasil, decime qué se siete”. Sulking some more, Jefferson did the only thing he could; shut down his cafe.

“I don’t care if I don’t make money tonight,” he said. “The only thing worse than a Brazil loss is an Argentina win. Such is our rivalidade.” Were Messi and Argentina to hoist the trophy on Sunday, CCR’s bad moon may just have risen over all of Brazil.

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