out of the city with my girlfriend late Saturday afternoon the low
grey skies match the dull apartment blocks as the motorway sweeps
past windows, balconies with battered plants, and washing hung hopefully
out to dry. The blanket of cloud brings a gloomy air to the concrete
landscape, suffocating the city like Argentines are being suffocated
by an endless barrage of bad news and emergency measures.
head west towards a town called Lobos, 100km from Buenos Aires.
the birthplace of 3-time populist President Juan Domingo
Peron and this weekend is celebrating its Bicentenary. There will
be traditional celebrations as well as open-air markets, and a
fireworks display; it feels like a pretty good place to witness
the start of Argentina’s World Cup campaign.
we drive through flooded fields the cloud gets lower, the mist
and light rain is falling, visibility is almost zero.
Its hard to know what’s out there, all we can do is keep
going. This must be what many Argentines feel right now, they don’t
know where they are, are uncertain what the future holds, and are
desperately trying to stay on course - but where too?
dark when we arrive in Lobos but we still have a few hours to
the 2.30am kick-off. We walk the streets looking
for a good place to watch the game; we find a bar that offers an “all
for $2 pesos crisis special” as well as a big screen to watch
the game. Its pretty packed inside, mainly teenagers and students,
the big screen offers a fuzzy image and when it gets worse a chorus
of jeers and whistles breaks out. Bar staff in an attempt to improve
things install another TV, luckily for us its close by.
Nigeria are a feared and respected opponent, Argentina struggled
to beat them 2-1 in the 1994 finals and lost to them in the 1996
Olympic games final. Expectation is high but nobody wants to burden
the team, fans concur that the only thing that matters is a win.
The game starts well for Argentina with Juan Sebastian Veron putting
precise balls through for Ariel Ortega to dazzle the Nigerians
with his dizzy runs, the mid field looks strong and the defence
solid. Nigeria breaks out a couple of times but is thwarted by
good work from rookie goalkeeper Pablo Cavallero. At halftime its
0-0 and everyone applauds the effort.
is quickly on attack in the second half, they look focused, and
decisive, 5 clear chances are created before Veron fires in
a curving corner and from a very sharp angle Gabriel Batistuta
heads in his 10th “Batigol” in World Cup matches. The
bar erupts in celebration, papers are thrown, neighbours hugged,
and drinks downed. It’s the crowning moment of Argentina’s
perfect pressure, you could feel the goal coming, it was just a
question of who and when. After the goal Argentina eases off a
little, substitutions are made, chances are created but not finished
and the game ends 1-0. Celebrations, singing, dancing, and shouting
break out again, Argentina is on its way, a positive and solid
first step. Plenty to work on and plenty to be happy about.
everyone congregates at Lobos’ central plaza, cars
drive round and round tooting their horns, everyone is jumping
and shouting, young and old, flags are waved, its noisy and fun.
The weather has caused the cancellation of the fireworks and traditional
celebrations but it doesn’t matter much, there is plenty
Its the second of June, and the third time that Argentina has
started its World Cup with a win on this day, the 2 previous occasions
were 1978 and 1986, and Argentina was crowned champion on both
occasions. 36 Million Argentines are hoping the trend will continue.
now look forward confidently to their next game against traditional
rival England. In the plaza at Lobos they are shouting
and jumping “Whoever doesn’t jump is English”
Some of the clouds have been blown away, and we catch glimpses
of the stars. A positive first step forward tonight on the long
and important road to victory.