Last week the biggest match of the Argentine Football (futbol, soccer) season took place at La Bombonera (Boca Juniors Stadium) in La Boca. The bi-annual Superclásico between the two biggest Argentine football clubs (Boca Juniors vs. River Plate) was undoubtedly the biggest topic of conversation in Buenos Aires both before and after the match. However, even after Boca’s impressive 2-0 victory over River, most of the talks weren’t about the fabulous play or incredible rivalry. It was more about how both teams, despite all the hype of the match, were still sitting in the bottom half of the standings more than half way through the tournament. As of this post, River is sitting in 16th place and Boca is 18th of 20 teams. A far cry from both clubs tradition and expectations of winning.
I can’t really explain the significance of this situation because there is no comparison like it in the States. Teams here are so rooted in political, economic and social influences that a few loosing seasons by one of these major clubs means big problems for a lot of people.
I preface this post with this information because although I couldn’t make it to the Superclásico last Thursday night, I attended the next River Plate match on the following Monday just a few days after their devastating loss. I figured paying $30 pesos vs. $200 US Dollars was a good trade-off for seeing an equally, if not more important match for both clubs.
I have been wanting to attend a match with Dan from the handofdan.com for awhile now to learn more about the game and get the inside scoop from a true football fan. Dan is a proper London bloke with West Ham United in his blood and an impressive journalism background. I’ve been reading his blog since I’ve been down here and it’s really well done. He manages to capture many different aspects of Argentine life and translate it through the eyes of an adopted Argentinos Juniors fanatic.
So, Monday night I decided to take the bus out to River Plate Stadium where River was hosting the Argentinos Juniors and met up with Dan and his buddies. With Dan being from England and his buddies from Brazil and France it was great to get the different prospectives of futbol/football/soccer from a diverse group of guys.
One question I still can’t seem to answer with a straight face is “How is ‘soccer’ doing in the United States?”
This was my first time at the River Stadium and my first time sitting in the visitors section. Although the Stadium was massive, we were all filed into a small section on the far side of the pitch blocked off with 10 foot tall barbed wire fences and armed police all around us. It was great. As expected the away team fans was filled with diehards. Not just anyone goes to away games and it made the atmosphere that much more intense.
Both squads had a lot to gain from a win, while River had a lot to loose as well.
The Argentinos scored early and left everyone in agony for the next 70+ minutes. River was quiet in the first half but in the second they had opportunity after opportunity to tie things up and even take the lead. You could literally feel the tension in the stadium get tighter and tighter as each River shot went wide or high.
Argentinos fans paced back and forth like a concerned student right before a big presentation. The only way I can describe it to friends at home is imagine 100 Justin Randaccio‘s watching the Buffalo Bills, mixed in with 100 Pat Brann’s watching the Browns try to pull one out. If you don’t know these guys, you should, but that’s okay. Just picture a die-hard sports fan friend watching his (or her) favorite team on TV, and then multiply that across an entire section in a roaring stadium where everyone has a little room to pace.
There was a big guy in front of me who was the best to watch (big guy pictured below). He looked exactly like the Argentine version of Bob Larson. If you don’t know Bob Larson you should. I don’t think this guy even brought a shirt to the stadium. He had 3 Argentinos Juniors tattoos and was on the verge of having a heart attack the entire second half. He paced back and forth and would punch his two little brothers behind him every time something bad happened.
Despite the close calls and high blood pressure Argentinos managed to hang out for the 1-0 win which pushed them up to 5th place (right behind mighty Velez) and sent River Plate into an even more downward spiral of trouble with 8 games to play.
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