The passion of Argentina’s supporters has been one of this World Cup’s most memorable storylines. The atmosphere at their games has been electric and there is a religious feel to their fandom.
Even though a few images of the Pope pop up here and there, it’s more a devotion to the two messiahs of Argentinian football: Maradona and Messi. On the backs of replica Argentina shirts you don’t see any other names. Identical twins at the semi-final against Croatia were wearing T-shirts: one had Lionel Messi on the front, the other Diego Maradona. On flags, banners and headdresses you see mocked-up images showing Maradona handing a ball to Messi – as if imploring him to continue carrying the fight. I’ve seen Maradona-Messi tattoos on arms and legs.
A lot of people are making the most of a last chance to see Messi at a World Cup. Argentina’s support is much more than a bunch of young blokes.There are dads with sons, mothers with daughters, parents with very young children. Some of the kids are too young to know what’s going on but it appears they are being taken so they can be told: “You were there when this happened.”
There were suggestions a lack of alcohol would make atmospheres stale but Argentina fans don’t need drink to fuel their passion. Stadiums open three hours before kick-off and Argentina fans rush in to bag their spots. Lots want to be in the front row and to get flags down. No one sits down and it’s clear plenty aren’t in the places they booked.
There seems to be a hierarchy in the way Argentina fans arrange themselves. The front is for the hardcore – and a small fight broke out at the semi-final between supporters wanting to be in that first row.
Generally, though, they have been very good-natured. Fans have been allowed to stand on the perimeter walls and a lot of the drums that beat out the rhythms to the songs are there; drums decorated with Messi, Maradona, or other famous players like Mario Kempes or Gabriel Batistuta. There is one with a map of the Falkland Islands and the words: “Malvinas Argentinas.”
The Malvinas feature a lot in the singing. There are two main songs the stadium reverberates to when Argentina play: “Vamos Argentina” (Let’s go Argentina) and “Muchachos, ahora nos volvimos a ilusionar” (roughly: guys, now we are excited again), adopting a tune by the nine-piece Argentinian band La Mosca, which has become the team’s anthem in Qatar. That’s the one the players were joining in with by the dugouts near the end of the semi-final and have also been singing in front of fans after games, and in the dressing room. It includes the verse:
In Argentina I was born
In the land of Diego and Lionel
And I will never forget
The lads of Las Malvinas
At least an hour after games Argentina fans are still in the stadium drumming and singing. The pitch is empty and everyone else has gone – it is a remarkable sight.
At the start of the tournament Argentina had more fans in Qatar than any other country. Their embassy was quoted as saying 40,000 had travelled, and although Morocco may have had more by the semi-finals, the number of Argentina fans was striking from their first match.
The followings for European countries have been well down on previous World Cups. It raises the question why Argentinians were not put off, especially when their country is in an economic crisis and it takes about 24 hours to get here from Buenos Aires. It makes you think people must have been saving for years.
Winning the Copa América last year and coming in on an unbeaten run of more than 30 games must have made a difference. They have travelled in hope, to see Messi before he finishes. Messi is also why plenty of locals have adopted Argentina. Sunday’s final will be like a home game for Argentina, whose fans will completely dominate the small number of France supporters. Will that make a difference?
Argentina fans don’t really do fancy-dress costumes – unlike Brazil – but as for the man who has come to matches dressed as the World Cup … he has to stand with his arms up the whole time to hold a ball on his head. If Argentina end up lifting the real thing it will have been a small sacrifice.