It was an agonising 120 minutes and after Argentina’s Maxi Rodríguez kicked the fourth penalty coolly into the back of the net the still and quiet cold night air was shattered by a single shout of “Gooooooollllll”, as if 40 million had burst into one syllable in unison.
“We’re in the final! We’re in the final! Hug your father, weep with him!” bellowed the commentator on Public TV but no one could hear him through hugging their father, hugging their neighbour, shouting “We’re in the final! We’re in the final!” themselves.
Within minutes the honking took over and in less than half an hour crowds gathered, traffic was diverted, main avenues shut off and late into the night TV mobile units broadcast live from the and cities around the country showing an impressive turnout. In Buenos Aires, mothers took their children to the Obelisk downtown, men in wigs hopped on their bikes.
Javier Mascherano, the captain with no armband, went viral: Photoshopped as Che Guevara, as military liberator, as the last Spartan, trending in all manner of phrases alluding to his power to resolve any situation (vulture hedge funds, Falklands or Malvinas, finding the Malaysian plane), and his clear instruction to the goalkeeper Sergio Romero, “today you become a hero”, together with admitting in the mixed zone that he “tore his anus” going for the ball that looked like it could end the dream for Argentina have become staples of the joy of a nation.
“It’s inexplicable; the need football generates for achieving unanimity – we’re all happy, we’re all united, we’re all better,” tweeted Matías Bauso, a journalist writing up an oral history of the 1978 World Cup, adding: “What would make us a better society would be the automatic and absolute repudiation of those who attempt to yield political returns from a sporting triumph.” He concluded: “Football, which is wonderful, expresses one of its worst faces when it gets mixed with nationalism; an explosive and harmful mix”.
So far, so good though. After a few hours of honking and cheering, daily life was resumed as normal, with only minor disrepair left behind on the streets. Amid the euphoria, players, manager and press made the time to mourn the loss of a colleague tragically killed in São Paulo on the eve of the semi-final (the second Argentinian journalist to die in a car crash during the tournament) and the pundits at how this momentous achievement was accomplished.
No one wants to hear that those from other shores found the game boring, or that Arjen Robben feels robbed. Everyone is delighted with the football, and ready to take to the streets once again after the final. But perhaps in a sign of maturity as a society, until most have gone back to their daily chores, with a little grin underlying the tedium, but without an overwhelming sense of triumphalism. Will that last over the weekend?