Argentina fans still dream of WC glory

An Argentina's fan wearing a fancy hat depicting Argentina's forward Lionel Messi reacts after being defeated by Croatia at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Argentina and Croatia at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod on June 21, 2018. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, Russia — It was the morning after the night before for Argentinian fans in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday and the recriminations from the devastating Croatia defeat just hours earlier were well underway.

The realisation that the 3-0 thumping by Croatia — complete with comedy first goal — had left the mighty two-time winners on the verge of a humiliating exit, left some of their fans in tears.

On Friday, many remained stunned by what had happened.

“We can’t sleep, we can’t talk, we can’t do anything,” said Sebastian, a 34-year-old lawyer who had travelled to Russia from Rosario.

“We’ve never seen anything like last night.”

The team, he said, had shown no “huevos”, using the Spanish slang for testicles.

Susi, a grandmother from Buenos Aires who spent an eye-watering $40,000 taking her son and grandson to Russia, said the result was so bad it could have implications for Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, as he battles economic problems at home.

“If Argentina loses, it can become a social problem,” she said.

The defeat was arguably the most shocking result of the tournament so far.

A team thought among the favorites for the World Cup, with superstar Lionel Messi as captain, were not expected to struggle through the first stage.

They certainly weren’t expected to play so badly.

The result was Argentina’s worst at a World Cup since being dismantled by Johan Cruyff’s “Total Football” Dutch side 4-0 on a thundery night in West Germany back in 1974.

Nor were Argentina meant to rely on the results of Iceland or Nigeria just to remain in Russia.

With one point from two games, their fans were desperate for Nigeria to beat Iceland in Friday’s game to retain hope of qualifying for the knockout stage.

“Today, all my country is Nigerian,” joked Nicolas, 41, a company owner from Buenos Aires.

Fans of the “Albiceleste” could be spotted all around Nizhny on Friday.

Some were walking round town in kit, others with “Lio” shaved into their hair, and those draped in the country’s flag, like Santiago, a student from the south of Argentina, as he prepared to head to Saint Petersburg for Argentina’s crucial final Group D match on June 26.

Who was to blame? The embattled coach Jorge Sampaoli or the curiously listless players who have failed to produce, including the great Messi?
“I believe that the coach is not sure what he wants, or he is unable to pass this onto the players,” said Santiago.

“But they also have to play, after all they are professionals.”

p: rma