Bombonera in Doha: Argentina fans sniff start of a new era
Oasis, the restaurant at the Qatar National Convention Centre, was buzzing on Thursday. Argentina journalists were celebrating the country’s entry into the World Cup final for the second time in eight years and the party is expected to continue till late on Saturday.
It’s on behalf of the Argentina Football Association, which has paid 19000 Qatari riyals (around Rs 4.32 lakh) to the restaurant for the party. There was laughter and banter all around. Win or lose on Sunday, Argentina is celebrating.
Back in Buenos Aires, it’s also party time. It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere, hence the timing of the matches also suits them — they are six hours behind Qatar time. A 6pm Qatar time start means it will be noon in the Argentina capital, a perfect time to catch the match on giant screens in pubs and make-shift viewing centres.
A World Cup in winter is a blessing for them. Generally, summer tournaments used to be a problem for Argentines as it would be winter for them. Coat-wearing people couldn’t flaunt a Lionel Messi or a Diego Maradona shirt but this time it’s different in every sense for them.
The team is in the final, Messi is in great form and the mood is electric in a nation where they have very little else to fall back upon other than football. Unlike Brazil, the superpower of Latin America where football is a passion but it’s also just another thing.
Doha is draped in blue and white right now. One cannot find an Argentina jersey in any shop in Doha. “It’s sold out. There was a huge demand for Messi shirts even before the World Cup started. You will not find an Argentina shirt, or bag or cap in any official store now,” said the person manning the counter of the Adidas store at the City Centre Mall.
An Argentina T-shirt costs QR 180 (around Rs 4100), a cap QR 120 (Rs 2727), he informed. The malls are full of Argentina fans. Wearing a Messi or Maradona or Juan Roman Riquelme shirt. Happy faces are waiting for one last show of Messi magic against France at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday.
They were there in Rio de Janeiro also eight-anda-half years ago. Chanting, dancing, singing. Messi was younger, he had turned 27 during the World Cup, and the team was brimming with talent. The fans were singing a song taunting Brazil about the 1990 Round of 16 defeat thanks to Claudio Cannigia’s goal from a magical Diego Maradona assist considered one of the greatest ever in World Cups.
But this time it’s different. At 35, Messi is playing like a man possessed and the team is rallying around him. Unlike Brazil where in the latter part of the tournament he played through pain but in Doha, he doesn’t have to fight injuries. The team is more competitive and combative. A bunch of youngsters hungry to win and end the 36-year wait for theWorld Cup.
The Lusail Stadium where Argentina have played all their matches, barring one against Poland, has been turned by the fans into their own Bombonera — the iconic Buenos Aires stadium. It’s intimidating for the other team to play here as Argentina fans call the shots in every aisle of the stadium.
Craving for the Cup is so huge this time that even otherwise atheists have become superstitious. A journalist who attended a pre-match practice session and news conference on November 21, the day before Argentina played Saudi Arabia, stopped doing that from the Mexico match onwards. And with Argentina not losing a single match since the Saudi debacle, the journalist is “100 per cent sure” that if he skips the pre-match rituals, his favourite team will win the Cup.
Another journalist has been wearing the same shirt she wore for the Mexico match and despite the fact that temperatures drop in the evening in this part of the world, she refuses the warmth of a coat. It’s not just the journalists or the fans — Silvina Riela, the mother of midfielder Alexis Mac Allister, has ensured she wears a cap she forgot to put on during the Saudi Arabia match.
For years, Argentina has dealt with failures, heartbreaks and finding scapegoats. On Sunday, they want to start a new era.