Life as we know it has stopped. Everyone in Argentina is simply waiting for Sunday. People have even stopped saying “goodbye” or “see you later”. Every conversation – whether it is on the street or in a shop and whether it is with strangers or close friends – now ends with a cheer and a good luck wish, a “c’mon for Sunday”.
Even the people – the very few – who are not interested or do not like football end up talking about the final now. It is the only topic in town. In a hospital waiting room on Friday a surgeon came out to tell worried relatives about a major operation that had gone well. First there was relief, of course, but within three minutes the group of people had returned to a conversation they had been engrossed in before the surgeon came out, which was a very specific and detailed assessment of Germany’s midfield.
Not everyone is happy, though. Many genuine football fans are feeling dispossessed, angry that something they regard as their own has become the conversational currency of outsiders, considered ignorant in the matter and therefore false or fake fans. These fans vent their moral superiority over the masses, proclaiming that anyone who has uttered the word “Mascherano” in these past few days has offered necessary proof that “they don’t know about football”, while millions more are talking about Javier Mascherano with genuine appropriation of his entire being: he now belongs to the nation. He is loved.
As the pile-up on the border between Argentina and Brazil grows, with a queue at least five kilometres long and an estimated 100,000 Argentinians about to descend on Rio de Janeiro, several perennial issues involving football, territoriality, national identity, enmity, hostility, conflict and notions of self and others have arisen.
For starters, it is being played in neighbouring Brazil, the closest to home it has been since 1978, enough to give a false sense of locality, or even playing at home. Brazil’s astonishing defeat at the hands of Germany was a little cherry on the cake, a further delight not unlike when a Boca supporter not only sees his team win but hears that River have lost.
Then there is Germany. Not only is this the third time the same two countries will meet in a World Cup final, but Germany happen to be the ones who knocked us out of the past two World Cups, albeit at the quarter-final stage. So the game against Germany is full of significance. The seven goals they put past Brazil have had the adverse effect on my initial prognosis of paralysing fear, and in fact awakened some ethereal belief that there is no way Germany can produce another performance like that.
Furthermore, there are echoes of 1950, when Brazil reached the final having scored seven against Sweden only to be eliminated by the River Plate “little brother” Uruguay in the by now oft‑quoted Maracanazo.
Mostly, though, winning is not actually the overall objective expressed by the people; not publicly at least. Everyone is just somehow elated to have reached the final, happy to be anxious, relishing the details over and over again, full of desire. It is a wonderful state and one wishes it could last longer. Some sentiments of patriotic fervour are seeping through, mostly from the media, and if, as Norman Douglas once wrote, “you can tell the ideas of a nation by its advertisements”, then this nation is a sentimental, flag‑waving, proud to be Argentinian, weepy melodramatic entity.
However, if one probes social media and measures the temperature of the kids milling about, the guitar-playing teens and the poetry-loving intellectuals are churning out gems 10 to the dozen; finding beauty in ideas, conversation and football itself; relishing still images of the games so far, close-ups of the players, analysing every detail of the tournament instant by instant. All this is eliciting interesting thoughts about what it might all mean, and ultimately, how it probably means nothing more than the pleasure of its own existence.
Not just in Argentina, either. In Brazil, home of the immortal Vinicius de Moraes, who penned the line about how mixing poetry with cachaça one ends up discussing futebol, the back-to-back programming on TV aired some of the most thought-provoking and fascinating insights into the game from writers, actors and songwriters amid the former players and the pundits.
It may be a cliche that football reflects life, but after a month of games it really does feel like so much of life itself is being talked about in every conversation, and having been active participant-observers in six matches already, Argentinians are salivating on the eve of the seventh.
In addition, the politicians have not yet overwhelmed the tournament with excessive discourse or trampling propaganda; in fact, the president wrote a discreet note to her Brazilian counterpart declining the invitation to attend the final. So the limelight will remain firmly on the players, and theirs will be the glory should it come to that.
Jorge Luis Borges said that given “the word happiness exists in every language, it is plausible the thing itself exists”. For now we have happiness and we have hope, in Argentina and for the thousands of Argentinians on Copacabana. On Sunday night the 23 players of Alejandro Sabella’s squad will write the next chapter – the one that starts on Monday and goes on until the next World Cup in four years’ time.
Marcela Mora y Araujo is an Argentinian football writer. Follow her here on Twitter.