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Argentina in suspense, hoping that Messi’s team will win their third World Cup

Buenos Aires, Argentina – One day before the start of the World Cup final in Qatar, Mayerlin Díaz Iglesias and her eight-year-old son José Alberto took a selfie in the heart of Buenos Aires.

Decked out in Lionel Messi jerseys on Saturday afternoon, they stood in front of the Obelisk of Buenos Aires, a monument that, since it was erected in 1936, has become a national symbol of Argentina’s greatest successes.

In this soccer-obsessed nation, that has often meant country victories on the pitch. If the Albiceleste ends up defeating France in the World Cup final in Qatar on Sunday, tens of thousands of Argentines will flood Avenida 9 de Julio -where the monument is located- as is tradition, dancing to bongos, horns and hymns they have. been singing for weeks.

“We are here because Argentina is going to win,” Iglesias, 46, said confidently, holding her young daughter, also dressed in Messi clothing. “We know it’s going to be a great party.”

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Argentina has been vibrating with this kind of energy since beating Croatia in the semi-final last week and earning a place in the final at Lusail Stadium against Les Bleus, as the French team is known.

Few places on earth are as obsessed with soccer as this country of 47 million people. Sport is part of its cultural identity: it is a business card all over the world; a way to measure greatness in the midst of a chronic economic crisis; a source of joy and talent.

José Alberto, the son of Iglesias who only has two World Cups, already knows what the tournament means. One World Cup ends and the countdown to the next begins, he said, standing in front of the obelisk.

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Argentinian fans have had high expectations for the team led by superstar Messi, himself chasing the one trophy that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career. After a shocking opening loss to Saudi Arabia, the maestro returned to conducting a symphony on the pitch. And with each victory, each step closer to the finish line, the crowd at home reveled in the splendor they saw on television, and for those who went to Qatar, in person.

Now, hours away from the final game, the excitement and tension are at their maximum.

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“Maradona, Maradona, Maradona sells,” said a shopkeeper on Avenida Corrientes, the city’s theater district, selling seemingly endless T-shirts. “If you’re younger, you look for Messi,” he added, or Julián Álvarez, the 22-year-old striker who emerged as a star during the tournament with four goals so far.

Argentine fans gather at the Obelisk during a demonstration in support of the national soccer team, one day before the World Cup final against France, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Saturday, December 17, 2022. ( Photo AP/Rodrigo Abd )
Argentine soccer fans at the obelisk of Buenos Aires, one day before the World Cup final against France, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 17, 2022 [Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo]

“That passion, that communion, that of celebrating the goal with the person next to you, even if you don’t know who he is, or what he thinks, or where he comes from,” said Mayor Horacio from Buenos Aires. Rodriguez Larreta. “We are all together behind the same passion”.

A grandmother who joined the raucous celebrations in a Buenos Aires suburb has become an online celebrity, nicknamed “Abuela lalalala”; while a still from a video of Messi calling a Dutch player a “silly” after the tense quarter-final against the Netherlands soon graced shirts sold on street corners.

On the streets, the enthusiasm is contagious, with people singing Muchachos, Ahora Nos Volvimos a Ilusionar (Guys, we are excited again), a catchy song by La Mosca Tsé that has become the de facto anthem of the Argentina World Cup.

The city of Buenos Aires organized “banderazos” –events to cheer on the team, dance and wave their Argentine flags– at 15 points in the capital in the days leading up to the final. The idea? Players more than 13,300 km (8,264 miles) away in Qatar should be able to hear the collective “cry” of the fans behind them.

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Passion also shows up in superstitious rituals known as cabals, in which people repeat a series of game-viewing behaviors they have come to associate with winning. Fans have been watching games with the same people, sitting in the same seats, wearing the same clothes, and eating the same food, all with the intention of increasing the chances of victory.

The World Cup has even summoned the wizardry of the self-styled witches in Argentina, who have come together to use candles, prayers and other rituals to send positive vibes in the direction of the team. They also warned against practices aimed at interfering with French players, saying they could backfire on Argentina.

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Argentina soccer jerseys hang for sale ahead of the team's World Cup final against France
Argentina’s soccer jerseys hang for sale ahead of the team’s World Cup final against France in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. (Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo)

“It’s incredible to see what Argentina generates during the World Cup,” said Miguel Ángel Bogado Gómez, who was selling World Cup memorabilia next to the obelisk. “Even Brazil, which has an incredibly high level of football, doesn’t end up doing what Argentina can do internationally with a ball and their jersey.” Even that hyperbole (Brazil has won five World Cups to Argentina’s two) only underscores the almost mythical status enjoyed by Argentine soccer players.

The 56-year-old artisan, who sells his wood-burning art, had a selection of Maradona and Messi-themed artwork. At his age, Gómez said, he has come to understand that “not everything goes the way you want,” but he is so involved in this World Cup that the idea of ​​victory slipping through the hands of the team full of anxiety. “This time tomorrow, we could be champions,” he said.

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Iglesias and Jose Alberto are also convinced. She described the World Cup as a “joyful” month that “brings unity” and has seen this through the messages she exchanged with friends and family in other parts of Latin America, particularly Venezuela, where she is from. Support for the Argentina team has spread throughout the region, with people in Chile, Colombia and even Brazil, a soccer rival, supporting the team that will represent South America in the final.

“Argentina has been in my blood for a long time, since I was young in Venezuela, and my dream of coming to live here came true,” he said. “The faith that I have had with football, I have always had with Messi.”

For Elias Draganczuk, 38, the World Cup has been a distraction for a country ravaged by high inflation and seemingly endless economic pessimism. “This is the opium of the people,” he said, looking out from a shady position near the obelisk. “Every four years spend millions and millions on this when this is a country that does not have drinking water [in some parts]he said, shaking his head.

Although he hasn’t given in to soccer fever, he knows where his loyalty lies. “I’m Argentine,” he said between laughs. “Obviously I want them to win.”

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