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Argentina, The Pain And The Pride

After its heart-stopping World Cup defeat to Germany, the expression of what the national team and the beautiful game mean to the people of Argentina.

Argentina's fans react while watching the final match of the 2014 World Cup between Germany and Argentina in Brasilia, Brazil, on July 13, 2014.
Argentina's fans react while watching the final match of the 2014 World Cup between Germany and Argentina in Brasilia, Brazil, on July 13, 2014.

BUENOS AIRES — The emotional impact of the World Cup final with Germany was tremendous.

The gangs of youth in the capital went on a vandalistic rampage on Sunday evening after Argentina's 1-0 defeat to Germany, trying to ruin a national fiesta, but they failed to steal the joy and pride our team has given to us.

We could have won, but instead lost with dignity before the best team in the World Cup. The German team may have even felt some relief as its players and coaches hoisted their prize, because they were clearly the favorite going in, which may have also been why there was more pride than bitterness among Argentines after it was over.

The fans of Argentina accept the defeat with the conviction that the dream could have come true, and almost, almost did...

Behind every World Cup, now a rite of the global village, many battles are taking place. The intimate stories that tie us to this game, the emotional contagion it provokes, the "expert" debates on tactics and strategy. It may be a matter for dispute, but Argentina controlled the eventual champion, which was but a shadow of the team that had humiliated Brazil.

Next Goal Wins

The average Argentine present on the country's streets and public squares last night, in addition to those in and around Maracaná stadium, claims a loyalty to this sport that begins in the cradle. It is passed on from generation to generation.

Some will ask, why should a country's mood change because a sporting dream did not come true? It could never make sense to anyone who has not dropped to his knees like midfielder Javier Mascherano. Or whose hearts did not race as a child, upon hearing in one of those never-ending neighborhood matches, someone shout Next Goal Wins!

Yesterday, it was a German who scored that goal, taking us down from the paramount pedestal of sporting glory. It is no exaggeration to assume profound links between futbol and themes of authentic national pride, the type that refuses to fall into the vulgar traps of chauvinism.

In his classic book "El Fútbol a sol y a sombra", (Soccer In Sun And Shadow) the novelist Eduardo Galeano admirably recounts what this game-passion-sport-business signifies, in its most heartfelt sense as it lodges itself in the heart and becomes the soul's permanent companion.

In futbol, he writes, "a sublimated ritual of war, 11 men in shorts are the shield of the neighborhood, the city or the nation. These unarmed and unarmored warriors exorcise the demons of the crowd and confirm faith: in every match between adversaries, the hatreds and loves inherited from father to son are at play."

Governments have always sought to claim some piece of this mood; and right on time, Télam reports that President Cristina Kirchner has congratuled coach Alejandro Sabella and will receive the team.

But let nobody try and get onto the gladiators' chariots in Maracaná, for they are only for players and coaches. And we have nobody to thank but them, for so much effort and struggle.

Like it or not, in spite of its standing now as a giant global business for FIFA and all the marketing, soccer retains its essence as a game. It is a game with a whiff of childhood, your local neighborhood and the fun that you only find in a crowd. Nevermind who wins. Yesterday we lost, but with heads held high and hearts full of warmth.

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