The Decadent Suffering of Argentina
The joy and pain of fútbol...and life.
In a post-match interview, Argentina’s goalkeeper, Emiliano Martínez, who rescued the Albiceleste from the brink of defeat, said this:
“Fue un partido de sufrir. Era el destino sufrir.”
“It was a match of suffering. It was our destiny to suffer.”
“Typical Argentino,” my sister and I joked. How dramatic.
My wife, sister, mom, and a good friend watched the game together. After the above interview, we put the TV on mute as we unpacked the heart-stopping chaos that was yesterday’s final. Later, when we saw another Argentinean player being interviewed, we unmuted it exactly at the moment that he said, “We had to suffer.”
We burst into laughter. Gotta give it to the Argentineans. They stay on brand.
Andrés Cantor, an Argentinean broadcaster who has gone viral for this moving video, shouted through tears:
“Argentina es campeón del mundo. Messi es campeón del mundo. No podía ser de otra manera sin sufrir.”
“Argentina is champion of the world. Messi is champion of the world. It couldn’t be any other way than to suffer.”
My sister and I poked fun at the theatrical Argentineans, but maybe we teased them because we understood.
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In 1998, I went to Italy on a class trip. That was during the World Cup in France, which the hosts won. I took a jersey my dad had given me: number 9, for the legendary Argentinean striker, Gabriel Batistuta, the number worn during this World Cup by Julián Álvarez, the 22-year-old breakout star who will surely be a fixture in the Argentina national team moving forward. I wore that jersey yesterday.
The Netherlands knocked Argentina out in the ‘98 quarterfinals, which the Dutch almost replicated this tournament in a surging comeback that the Albiceleste just barely survived a week and a half ago, not unlike yesterday’s final against France.
One night on that Italy trip, I wore number 9 to a bar, which caught the eyes of a group of Argentineans that were all decked out in baby blue and white, their cheeks painted with little Argentinean flags. They also had an actual flag they took turns waving around in the bar, creating a wide berth between them and the rest of the patrons. They were very happy to see me. Or they were drunk.
They asked me why I was wearing a Batistuta jersey. I told them my family was from Argentina. They hugged and kissed me and asked me what part of Argentina my family was from. I told them they were from Mendoza. I can’t remember which part they were from. I apologized for my Spanish, which is not as good as my sister’s. They smiled. As a group, they hugged me, and one of them said, “You’re one of us.”
We danced and drank and laughed and sang. Sometimes, I couldn’t access the words I needed in Spanish to say what I felt, but maybe I wouldn’t have been able to find them in English either. Maybe it didn’t matter.
Right before they left, they tied the flag around my neck so that it draped down my back, like a cape.
“Keep it,” one of them told me. “To remember us.”
After the game yesterday, I didn’t feel joy so much as I felt relief. And today, I feel sad.
Maybe I feel sad because it’s the end of an era. This will be Messi’s last World Cup. I’ve been watching him since his debut in 2006, when he was just 18 years old.
“They call him La Pulga,” my dad told me back then.
I watched Messi in different phases of my life, first as a young twenty-something working at a PR agency in Manhattan, having just moved back to the U.S. from England, then as a more established 30-something living in Queens, dating his future wife, and now as a middle-aged man with a graying beard in the suburbs.
Starting in the 80s, I watched every World Cup with my dad, with the notable exception of 2006, which I watched with my sister in South Africa. I dragged her to a bar full of vocal Germans to watch the quarterfinals, which saw the Albiceleste lose a nailbiter in penalty kicks. That was the last Argentina game I watched with my sister, until yesterday.
I couldn’t watch this one with my dad. He lives in Argentina now. Maybe that’s why I’m sad. My dad and I had always prayed for a moment like this one. We had suffered through momentous heartbreaks, underachieving teams, and the unfulfilled promise of Messi.
Maybe I’m sad because the World Cup can’t rescue Argentina the way Martínez rescued the national team. Their inflation is a runway freight train, and much of the country, including some of my family, is struggling. Being champions of the world doesn’t fix that, but maybe it can ease their suffering, if only for a little while.
Maybe I’m sad because my dad and I were waiting for a moment like yesterday for decades, and when it finally came, we were thousands of miles apart.
Or maybe I’m just being dramatic.
Driving to my sister’s house for the final yesterday, I told Daniela the story of the flag.
“Do you still have it?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. I think it might be at my mom’s house,” I said.
“Are you sure she has it?”
“I think so.”
“Do you want to go see if we can find it?”
“No, it’s OK.”
I turned into my sister’s cul-de-sac and noticed an atypical lack of parking. Had World Cup fever reached even this decidedly un-Argentinean corner of New Jersey?
As I pulled up to my sister’s house, I saw my mom in the middle of the street, waving the Argentinean flag, the same one I’d received as a gift 24 years earlier.
I parked behind my mom’s car and walked over to her. She looked at me, pointed at my jersey, and said, “Oh, you have it! I was looking for that!”