FIFA World Cup 2018: At Copacabana, in a German shirt among 500,000 Argentina fans
A fan recollects his experience of walking into the midst of 500,000 of the happiest Argentina fans in the world bonded together by one common belief of a title winfootball Updated: Jun 10, 2018 09:51 IST
World Cup finals are a good way to track your life and how it has changed. Think of all the title clashes you’ve watched and you’ll see snapshots of where you were, who you were with, where you lived, where you worked, were you happy, were you sad. They’re moments that are big enough to stick on in memory and they only come once every four years, which means there’s enough time and distance between finals for the changes in your life to be fairly dramatic.
In 2014, everything changed. There are no peripheral memories from that Argentina-Germany clash; it’s all just a blur — a blur of blue and white. Blue sky, white sand, blue stripes, white stripes, blue havaianas, white caipirinhas, and hundreds and thousands of blue-and-white flags.
Four years ago I and a group of friends decided to go to Brazil during the World Cup and while the Maracana proved a step too far despite travelling 13,418 kilometres, we did the next best thing: we watched the final on the Copacabana with 500,000 football-crazy Argentina fans.
So what does it feel like to be in the midst of 500,000 people? Actually let’s take a step back, because this was a bit more than that.
On the ninth of July, Germany thrashed Brazil 7-1 in Sao Paolo.
The next day, Argentina beat The Netherlands on penalties to seal their place in the final and, from this point on, the hundreds of thousands of Argentina fans camping on the beach, barbequeing on the boulevard, clothes drying on makeshift lines, were convinced that the World Cup was theirs. They had watched their arch-enemy humiliated at home and they were a win away from the title in the arch-enemy’s backyard.
They had come to Brazil armed with a song. The first couple of lines loosely translated to ‘Brazil, how does it feel to have your daddy in your house’, before mentioning Brazil’s many humiliations and predicting that Messi would bring back the Cup. And, of course, that Maradona was better than Pele.
The more you heard the song — they sang it in bars, in buses, on beaches — the more prophetic it seemed. They weren’t here for a football match anymore. They were here to witness destiny.
So that afternoon, long before kick-off, we weren’t just walking into the midst of 500,000 people. We were walking into the midst of 500,000 of the happiest fans in the world bonded together by one common belief — that in five hours’ time, they’d be partying even harder. There were no nerves here, just half-a-million people radiating optimism.
It was thrilling. It was exhilarating. But that still doesn’t explain why three of us (out of our gang of eight) thought it was a good idea to walk in there wearing Germany colours.
We found our spot at one of the five or six giant screens set up on the four-kilometre stretch. It was four hours to kick-off, the calm before the storm.
The Argentinian fans were too happy to bother about the Germany jerseys. I also suspect the fact that we were Germany fans from India made us a lot less hardcore, and a lot more palatable. Plus, we had our resident Argentina fan with us, armed with a giant flag, a painted face, and the words of every Argentinian football chant he had picked up in the last week.
By the time the match kicked off, there was no space to move. You could follow the action with your eyes closed: every time Argentina had the ball, the air filled with expectation... when Germany had the ball, it filled with abuse. Missed chances — Gonzalo Higuain, I’m pointing at you — were met with giant groans but at no point, even as the match went into extra-time, did the belief in this heaving mass of humanity dip.
Until Mario Goetze scored for Germany with just seven minutes to play. A long, stunned silence, and an urgent tap on the shoulder. “Go quickly... move, move, there’s some trouble right behind us.” It was one of the many friends we had made that day, and we knew better than to argue.
The Germany jerseys came off, the flags went into someone’s bag, and we sneaked off. The final whistle came just as we made it to the promenade. I don’t remember watching the celebrations or the trophy ceremony... but any time anyone mentions the phrase “match made in heaven” I think of that evening at the Copacabana.
We’d spent the days leading up to the final half-heartedly looking for match tickets we couldn’t afford to buy. I like to believe we ended up in the better spot anyway.
-Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for 20 years, now runs an event space in Goa. He tweets @deepakyen
First Published: Jun 10, 2018 09:50 IST