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Latin Adventure’s Travel Diary

Friday, 30 Jun 2006

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

I think someone important might have died Buenos Aires today, but I’m not sure who. Faces are long, conversation is muted and warm greetings are surprisingly hard to come by, especially if your English and still in the World Cup finals. Argentina is a country in morning. They have just been beaten on penalties by Germany, and the shock of this defeat has broken a country. For my friends the realization that they will have to wait another four year to go to South Africa is just sinking in.

The country has been on the edge of its seat for the last three weeks watching its beloved national team hit magical form against Serbia and Montenegro with a six goal spanking and then finally bow out in the worst way possible: The dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Football in Argentina is very different from that in the UK. I consider the English a footballing nation and on the whole we have very passionate if not sometimes, stupid fans. But, it isn’t a way of life like it is here. Football is part of the every argentines national identity and psyche and nothing has been more important over the last few weeks than watching Argentina play in the World Cup. The country has literally ground to a halt as everyone has stopped what they are doing and crowded around the nearest TV. Offices shut, traffic stopped and the homeless gathered with shoppers around the electrical store window to watch the televised game. At work we had a TV put in the office and as I write this I have just come back from a three hour lunch break with the entire office to watch their unfortunate exist.

Last Saturday I watched the Argentina vs Mexico game in a bar. When the game ended 2-1 in Argentina’s favour, the city exploded into life. The win got the team into the Quarter finals and an encounter with Germany. I had expected only a moderate celebration, people would be out that night talking about the game and enjoying the win. But in Argentina, just getting there was sufficient to draw over 30,000 fans into the city centre and for the police to close off three main streets to traffic for four hours.

My friends have described the scenes they witnessed when the national team won the ’86 World Cup. They said the streets packed with hundreds of thousands of flags and jumping fans. They celebrated for weeks and the whole country got a well need boost in confidence.

I imagine things will be pretty quiet here for the next couple of weeks and any talk of football will be shunned. The national mourning process, as with any other, will go though the usual stages. The initial shock, as we are in now. Walking back from my watching the game I saw people with there head in their hands and hugging each other, their faces full of disappointment. Then denial – I assume this takes the form of reaffirming that they were cheated and that Maradona is still the best footballer in the world ever. Finally comes acceptance and the outpouring of grief. I expect this to come when the valiant lions of her majesties England hold aloft Jules Reme for all to see. If there’s one thing Argentines hate more than losing, its Brazil or England winning.