Vamos Argentina (7.10.2014)
I am not from Argentina, so I do not understand the importance of soccer for the unity and culture of Latin American countries like Ana does. However, I studied in Buenos Aires for the five months leading up to this World Cup. When I arrived at Ezeiza International Airport, I was greeted by Messi’s image, in an advertisement saying “Yo amo Argentina.” This advertisement was everywhere throughout the city, and the conversations I had with locals were mostly about soccer and the upcoming World Cup.
In my classes I learned about Argentina’s soccer history, and about the legacy of Maradona and the “Hand of God.” At the gym I belonged to, I watched from my treadmill as groups of men huddled around the television screaming and shouting throughout the qualifying games. In my last week in Buenos Aires I attended a River Plate game, and it was unlike any other sporting event I have ever experienced. After the first goal, I learned that for the following goals I had to make sure I was holding onto something otherwise I would get seriously injured. Still, after every goal I was thrown up into the air, fans were kissing and hugging me, and by the fourth goal I was face down on the ground.
Now these experiences do not qualify me to understand how deeply embedded this soccer culture is in the lives of Argentines, but I do understand what this win would mean for the country and for Messi’s legacy.
The city of Buenos Aires and the surrounding barrios have been suffering from job displacement, riots, strikes, and poverty. While I was living in Buenos Aires, I witnessed strikes on my walk to school, and I avoided objects people set on fire on my walk home from the gym. I was given a day off from school for a general strike primarily on public transportation, and I witnessed poverty unlike anything I have seen before. Now a soccer championship would not solve these problems, but it would bring a sense of hope and pride back to the Argentine people in the face of hardship.
Before the 2014 World Cup started, the expectation was that Brazil would win the title on their own soil. The reason Argentina was in the discussion as a title contending team, was because of the presence of Lionel Messi.
However, throughout his soccer career, he has been walking on very thin glass with Argentine fans. Messi has gained recognition as one of the greatest soccer players from his accomplishments on F.C. Barcelona; over the past nine years he has led the team to national and international titles while breaking individual records.
Yet, for Argentine fans he will never be appreciated like Maradona because they do not believe him to be Argentina enough. People believe that he left Argentina too soon; he did not come up through the club ranks and play for a first-division side in Argentina like Diego Maradona did.
When Messi comes up in conversation, it is common to hear, “no tiene hinchada,” meaning that he has no homegrown support, no fan base while playing in the World Cup.
Throughout the tournament so far, Messi has successfully played his necessary leading role and has been successful enough to put Argentina on top in every match thus far. Messi has played good soccer in conjunction with a certain level of class that many fans never see from Argentine teams. Messi needed to play a certain way in the World Cup in order to gain support back home, and the way he has handled himself and led the team thus far have led him on the right track.
Win or lose on Sunday, Messi and the Argentine National Team have made history and accomplished something great for their country. I would love to see a win come to Argentina, as I believe that it would bring hope to the Argentine people and it would provide them with a hometown hero that is Lionel Messi.