Vamos Argentina!

A Kiwieye view of Argentinas 2002 World Cup Campaign.

Game 2 – Pool Match Vs England



A 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!

The 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.

All 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.

The talk during the week has been about David Beckham and his 4-year nightmare after he was sent off in the match in France 1998 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”

By Friday the fog is gone and Buenos Aires wakes to a beautiful spring day, the sky is the same brilliant blue as Argentina’s 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.

Argentina 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.

Midfield 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.

In 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 is deafening.

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.





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