deafening silence fills the air, faces are turned towards the
ground, shoulders are sloped, even the traffic moves slowly and
silently. How can this be? Its 10.30am on Friday morning in one
of Latin Americas biggest and noisiest cities!
week started with the city covered in a dense fog, you could
hardly see buildings just a few blocks way, and
the top floors
of apartment towers had disappeared. The Argentines call this a “London
fog” and even though they don’t need reminding it keeps
their minds focused on their next World Cup opponent, England.
After the win over Nigeria where the team looked assured and composed
most Argentines are looking forward confidently to the match against
England. England are respected opponents but played poorly in their
first game against Sweden, struggling to a 1-1 draw. More importantly
Argentina has not lost to England since the 1966 World Cup.
week long the city prepares for a giant “fiesta”,
special arrangements are made so that school children can watch
the game at school or arrive late, public administrations change
their hours so employees can watch the game, and companies install
televisions and big screens so that staff are tempted to come to
work. After so much recent doom and gloom it is easy for Argentines
to get excited about the World Cup.
talk during the week has been about David Beckham and his 4-year
nightmare after he was sent off in the match in
when Argentina eliminated England, about Diego Maradona’s “Hand
of God” and sensational second goal at the 1986 World Cup
in Mexico, and also about the Falklands war. Argentina’s
leading goal scorer Gabriel Batistuta said that it was an important
game but no different from that against Nigeria, and that it was
not about history or politics. He also remembered with sadness
a friend who was killed in “Las Malvinas”
Friday the fog is gone and Buenos Aires wakes to a beautiful
spring day, the sky is the same brilliant blue
flag and it seems like the Gods are smiling on Argentina.
For the game my daughter Natalia and I are going to the America
cinema, one of a number of cinemas who are showing the game, as
we walk through the deserted and silent streets before kick-off
we wonder what the noise will be like after the game. In the plaza
beggars sleep undisturbed, oblivious to the fervour that has kept
many Argentines sleepless with nervous anticipation.
The cinema is charged with emotion, and when the game gets underway
the air is loaded and heavy with pride, hope and expectation, you
can feel it. It is a powerful and moving experience as hundreds
of fans sit in the darkness and urge the team on.
start the game well enough but it isn’t long until
England make their presence felt, for all Argentina’s confidence
it is England who are winning the 50/50 balls, and creating space
and chances. You can feel that England want this game, they need
to win this one to stay alive, and are playing like it is the World
Cup Final. It is luck that keeps England scoreless when lightning
fast Michael Owen gets through the defence and his shot glances
off the goal post. As halftime approaches Owen is tripped inside
the area and England are awarded a penalty. A stunned silence falls
over the cinema as Beckham steps up and bangs the ball into the
net for a 1-0 halftime lead to England.
general Juan Sebastian Veron is subbed at half time and on in
his place is rising star Pablo Aimar.
Things look a little
better for Argentina but they cant break through the rock like
English defence fortified by a burning desire to win. Instead it
is England who have the chance to go further ahead but excellent
reflexes from Pablo Cavallero keeps out shots from Owen, Scholes,
and Sheringham. Argentina pile on the pressure in the last 15 minutes,
cheered on by fans thousands of kilometres away and look like they
could score but it isn’t to be. The final whistle goes with
England still ahead 1-0.
the America cinema the fans quietly leave their seats and head
home or to work, we sit for a while in the painful
quiet with others
also too stunned to move and reflect on what might have been. At
10.30 on Friday morning Argentina’s planned celebrations
have been extinguished before they could even be ignited and David
Beckham has put his 4-year nightmare to bed. The silence
With their first defeat in nearly 2 years heavy in their hearts
and minds Argentina would do well to remember that “In
order to succeed you must first learn how to fail”. There
is still plenty to play for and a win over Sweden next Wednesday
will keep the dream alive.