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World Cup 2014: The spirit of Argentinians

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Growing up in a country, for which soccer was one of the main sports and in a family where the father not only played soccer all his life, or as we call it in Russia (and anywhere else but USA – football), but also who watched religiously all the soccer matches of the Russian teams, as well as around the world, I never appreciated soccer as much until now.

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I remember being a child, when my dad first mentioned the name Diego Maradona to me. I was too young to understand, what Maradona meant to every single soccer fan around the world. I remember hearing many other names of the soccer players who defined the art of soccer. Only, I didn’t really care. Women in my country didn’t really play or watched soccer as much as men did. The only woman in my family who actually did watch soccer was my aunt, and today, she is still the only one who not only knows all the names of the players, but who also sends me all the cheers and updates on the current World Cup games. Thanks to the existence of Facebook, we correspond daily. The world is different now with all the social media around, not to mention that now one can YouTube the emotions of watching the games, track the comments and emotions of the fans around the world via Twitter and post photos and updates on Facebook.

Three decades later, I started to appreciate soccer, and it’s all because I married into the culture that is not only passionate about soccer, but the culture that lives and breaths the soccer culture. For them, the world cup is not only the competition, it’s so much more – it’s the event that “unites millions of people”, as one of our Argentinian friend said. I'm talking about the Argentinas.

As the World Cup 2014 matches were taking place, I realized that not only I started to care, but I’m passionate about this sport more than I ever was and that’s because I was able to experience it through the eyes of Argentinians.

Last Wednesday, I joined my Argentinian husband and his friends and other 100 people at an Argentinian restaurant/bar Shelter Pizza & Empanadas in Williamsburg to watch the semi-finals – Argentina against Belgium. Little did I know what to expect from this event.

When I showed up, the place was already packed with the Argentans wearing the soccer national team jerseys and with the non-Argentinian fans of the Argentinian national team. When the match began and lasted for another 2.5 hours, I’ve had the experience of my life that not only I’d never forget, but which changed my whole perception of the ‘soccer watching’.

Not only the crowd was singing various songs throughout the game, regardless of who was starting to sing, the rest of the place would pick up and sing along, but it felt like all of these strangers all of the sudden became close friends. The experience was intense. I realized that when my husband said this match was very important for him and his country, I actually saw it – through the actions and emotions of the Argentans watching the game. It felt like there was no other outcome but to win for the Argentinian team. I felt like this spirit was not only characteristic to this one Williamsburg restaurant, but that this intensity was happening with every Argentinian in Argentina and around the world. It’s there where I understood the point of “uniting” – everyone was united with one main goal – to show as much of the support for the team as it was possible and it was happening very natural for everyone around me. I was so caught up in the whole spirit that I, actually, didn’t want for the match to end. I didn’t mind the second and the third additional times. But when the penalty time came on, the intensity of the crowd took a whole new meaning! Here's the video I took to capture the emotions of the Argentans around me.

Watching and experiencing the World Cup with my Argentinian husband showed me what I’ve been missing all these years when my father couldn’t “convert” me and my mother into watching soccer with him. Of course, I knew some of the soccer players, but only for the sole purpose of being a girl who was attracted to a good looking boy, such in the case of David Beckham or Zinedine Zidane. I never really watched the art of their soccer technique, I never really zoomed my eyes on their feet. And now, I’m watching how Angel Di Maria and/or Leo Messi play and I find great joy in it. I finally realized the whole point of soccer watching, the whole point of how it is an art form of some sort and why one team is stronger than another. During this World Cup, I learned who Thomas Mueller, Leo Messi, Arjen Robben and Neymar were. Never in my life I actually paid attention to this sport. Now, I do, and it’s all thanks to the Argentinian community of New York. Their passion for this sport is truly contagious.

Tomorrow is the final. Argentina meets with Germany and we are going to the same place to share this incredibly important event with the other Argentinians and friends who live in Argentina. When Argentina made it to the final, within just a few days, many of our friends from here and Buenos Aires end up on the flights going to Brazil to see the final. Imagine, would YOU have done it? Would you take off and buy your $1,500 ticket overnight to go on a 11-hour flight to Brazil, leaving your work and family and other responsibilities at home? No. Right? But these Argentians did and it put a lot of grief onto my husband, who cannot be there to cheer for his team, to share this experience with the friends he grew up with in Buenos Aires, who will be there to cheer for the team. Because...

Argentans grew up playing and watching soccer. My husband played soccer all his life. His friends played soccer all their lives. Their fathers and brothers grew up playing soccer. As my husband said, soccer was one of the sports that was not elite, it was for everyone, and it’s the sports that truly unites the whole country, regardless of the status in the society.

I spent more than 20 years in USA. I’ve never seen Americans being excited about soccer. At my high school, soccer was more important to the girls than boys. In my college I hardly heard anything about soccer from the people around me. The sports that dominated my high school and college years were American football, track, basketball and, perhaps, tennis to some degree. Up until I moved to New York City, I hardly heard about it with the exception of David Beckham coming to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy team, which, didn’t really do much to the spirit of the soccer in the country anyway.

Being in New York City alone, the multinational community of the city put the soccer back on the map. Throughout the World Cup games, every day there was a match I saw people on the streets wearing the jerseys of their favorite teams. I saw Germans, Brazilians, Colombians, Argentinians and etc. going to work wearing the jerseys of their teams. It felt very liberating, very international. And then when the American team proved that USA should not yet give up on soccer and that Americans are not as bad as it might have felt before, all of the sudden, the shops that were selling the American soccer clothes and other gear saw a sharp increase in the sales. Let’s just hope this interest wouldn’t die after the World Cup is over!

That’s said, I didn’t want for my article to be about history and such. One can learn about it all online. I just wanted to share my personal experience of watching the World Cup with one of the international community of NYC – the Argentinians. After watching the semi finals last Wednesday and seeing the spirit and passion of the Argentans I wanted to ask a couple of the Argentans about the meaning of the soccer for them. I wanted to know what this World Cup and soccer, in general, means for them. Here are a few of the answers that would help you to understand how other countries view soccer, how other people feel about this sport and what it means for them, their culture and their country, and why this soccer watching with the Argentinians is so damn passionate...

Diego, Buenos Aires:

“To begin with, Argentina was colonized culturally by the British and the football, as well as tennis, became the national sports. We all grew up playing and watching soccer. The social and economic history of Argentina consists of the path that has taken the country to become a developed country where the middle income prevails. Overall, there is a general feeling in the country of wanting to be better than other nations and constant comparison with the other developed countries, which almost always yield disappointing results in the universe of indicators: economic, educational, cultural, political and social.

Then the field of sport, where anyone, regardless of the status can play against the opponents. Given that Argentina historically has a fairly good team, the passion of Argentinian fans embraces the World Cup madness.

In Argentina football is passion. It unites all the cultural, economical and social sectors of the country. That is why this sport is so important to us, no matter where we – the Argentans - live."

Elliot, New York:

“Excellent question and sooo tough for an argentine to answer because you're asking us to sum up a lifetime of emotions in just a few sentences. It's as if you asked us what is the meaning of happiness? Impossible to answer or even know where to start… But I’ll give it my best. Here are a few random thoughts…

What is futbol?

…Futbol is a drug, a poison, and an antidote all at once. There’s no other way to put it.

… it’s a passion that’s so hard to describe because it’s so deeply embedded into our culture. You see argentines aren’t spectators of the game. We don’t just watch the game. We live the game! We talk futbol at home, in the bar, and we pray for it at church. We play futbol in parks, gardens, patios, and hallways with just about anything that rolls. We’re born with the talent the same way foreigners expect us to tango. We live futbol! Because we’re hinchas of the game on and off the pitch. It’s our lifestyle and our raison d’etre.

… Because most things center around futbol. Your friends root for the same club (I don’t think I have any close friends who are gallinas). Girlfriends change their club loyalty to match yours. And when your team wins, your mood changes: you’re more confident, you have sex (a lot), you’re a better person, you’re more productive at work.

… Unlike other lackluster sports, futbol is played only once a week, on Sundays (which explains our weekly mood swings). Because it’s a divine sport, because we believe you have to wait for those things that matter. In a futbol match no one get’s out of their seat to buy popcorn or hotdog. Quite the opposite. We’re glued to the game, to our team, to the experience. There’s no socializing during a match because we’re too busy rooting for our teams… romancing the players through our chants… egging them on to win (vamos carajo… huevo, huevo, huevo).

What does it mean?

… It means going to la bombonera for the first time when I was six years old... Listening to 50,000 voices chanting at the top of their lungs accompanied by the enthralling beating of drums (or bombos) and thousands of flags (or trapos), where some of the happiest moments in my life took place.

… it means post match asados with choripans, lomitos, mollejas and a good malbec.

… it means suffering through losses, being humiliated for months on end.

… It means crying in ways that adults shouldn’t be allowed to cry.

What would winning the World Cup mean?

…It means spending your entire savings to go watch Argentina play in the WC finals because there’s no cap on futbol (yo te sigo a todos lados cueste lo que cueste). It’s about leaving all of your worries behind for one divine moment… and the opportunity to watch Messi score the winning goal.

… it means going to the obelisco along with a million other hinchas to celebrate a world cup. It means coming together as friends, family, and one nation in arms.

… it means seeing the final with you and Eze and celebrating a historic moment together (no matter the outcome).”

Marcelo, Buenos Aires:

"There’s no right answer and at the same time there are 1,000 right answers without knowing. And that is because there’s no rationality behind. It’s all about passion. And that is why we want to wear the players’ shirts to feel that spirit translate into our bodies. It’s our way to support our team, not just show off with a jersey to our friends. Soccer and world cup puts the 40 million people all together and with one goal - the first place. And why? Passion."

Ezequiel, New York City:

What does it means to you? And why victory is so important?

"To me this means more than a victory in a competition and become the best one in the world.

Futbol for argentines is very important. We grew up with soccer or futbol how we call it was a way to integrate with other kids, getting involve in topics with adults and build your competitive skills in something that is played in every corner of Argentina. Enjoying a world cup is being again involved in my culture, feeling close to my family, friends and country.

It is also very important to me sharing this sentiment with you and show how it is felt among argentines and even more rewarding seeing that you enjoy as well. This victory is very important for a variety of reasons:

1) Being the best one in the most popular sport around the world, 2) Sharing it with the people I love after having enjoyed amazing moments, 3) Reuniting a country that haven been highly divided among different political perspectives or social classes, 4) Winning in our rival' s country and in the Maracana stadium which is with wembley and La Bombonera the three most iconic stadium around the world to me."

On July 9, 2014, Argentina eliminated the Netherlands in a penalty shootout to set up a third meeting with Germany in the World Cup final.

After a scoreless game in Sao Paulo, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved penalty kicks by Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder to help his team win the shootout 4-2. Both teams showed great toughness and resilience on the field. Argentina had Leo Messi, Netherlands had Arjen Robben.

Tomorrow, July 13, 2014 Germany will make a record eighth appearance in the World Cup final at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. In 1986 Diego Maradona led Argentina to a second world title with a 3-2 win over Germany in the final. Germany avenged the loss four years later with a 1-0 win for a third World Cup win. Neither has won the tournament since.

After making a record 7-1 win over Brazil, Germany destroyed the country, which not only hosts the World Cup, but for which this sports is as important as it is for the Argentinians. Brazilian people were literally crying – men, women, elderly, children – it was a truly tragic day for the Brazilians, even the newspapers next day put nothing on the front page but black squares with nothing to say but grieve.

It was the worst defeat in Brazilian history and the biggest loss for a tournament host. The rout ended a run of 63 competitive matches at home without a defeat for Brazil, going back to 1975. This put quite some pressure on the Argentinians who are meeting Germany tomorrow.

Perhaps, after reading this one would want to not only get to know this sport, but, perhaps, want to experience it through the eyes of the members of the other cultures. Either way, tomorrow's game is worthy of watching for many reasons...or at least to see Gisele Bundchen giving the trophy to the winning team.

Vamos Argentina!

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