Reda Maher

Brazil 360: ‘Anyone but Argentina, not in our backyard’

Reda Maher

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Argentina fans in Rio de Janeiro celebrate their semi-final win over the Netherlands

There is a symbolic cleansing quality to the driving, incessant rain that has been washing down on Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo over the past few days.

Brazil has been in a state of numb shock since the unravelling of their World Cup dream – not because there was a genuine belief they could win it, but of course due to the manner of their departure.

[HOW GERMANY DESTROYED DISTRACTED BRAZIL]

Cariocas are somewhat less tolerant of torrential downpours than hardy European types, so locals were somewhat thin on the ground on what would ordinarily be a bustling Thursday night, the informal start of the weekend.

The crushing nature of the 7-1 defeat to Germany didn’t help; that their most loathed football rivals, Argentina, would reach the final merely heightens the angst.

Almost every non-English speaking Brazilian I’ve come across these past few days has used the same suspicious opening gambit: “Eres Argentino?”

I get it. I’m swarthier than your average European, and I don’t speak much Portuguese, so generally get by in a rudimentary version of Spanish learned in Madrid but delivered with a softer accent than your typical Castilian.

Most Brazilians have at least a basic grasp of Spanish, but are not necessarily able to distinguish the level of fluency, or the origin of the accent. So, on initial inspection, it figures that I could be one of the marauding hordes of Argentines laying camp in their neighbouring country, a horde which has been swelled by wealthier compatriots flying in for the final.

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Argentina fans camping out in Rio

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Carlos was particularly disconcerted that I may be one of 'them'; once I’d explained my origins, he relaxed into conversation, but was no less sombre.

“Good. The English probably feel the same way about Argentina. Anyone but them. Not here. Not now. And you understand this rain too.”

Argentina’s fans have been singing a song during this World Cup, you see.

A catchy ditty (melodically, one of the less discordant at these finals), lyrically it has been designed to rub the hosts up the wrong way.

It opens: “Brazil, how does it feel? To be bossed around in your dad’s house?"

The song later culminates in the declaration that “Maradona is bigger than Pele”.

Those of us who have seen that shower photo would dismiss the suggestion that Maradona is bigger than Pele, but the chant has taken a melancholic turn for Brazilians in the aftermath of the 7-1 thrashing by Germany.

“We don’t mind it so much when they sing ‘seven, seven, seven’,” a different Carlos told me in Sao Paulo, as I made my way back to Rio following Argentina’s shoot-out win over the Netherlands.

“But the general lack of respect – summed up by that song – does annoy me.”

For Argentina are not only Brazil’s biggest football rivals, but they have travelled in numbers not seen at recent World Cups, thanks to the nations’ proximity and the ability to make it a road trip, cheaper than the usual intercontinental trek.

That means a certain type of brash, boozy visiting fan; a type that hasn’t always gone down so well with the locals. A type reminiscent of a certain Diego Maradona.

Taxi drivers get to meet a wide range of visiting fans, and have a captive audience to observe.

So I asked Anderson, a driver in Sao Paulo, what his view of Argentina was. He started on a sombre note.

“Before I talk about the Argentina fans, let me say how sad I was to hear about the two journalists dying, two from the same country, in just over a week.

“The roads here aren’t always good, and there are some crazy people, but that’s so unfortunate for the families and everyone who knew them.

“Brazilians don’t have a problem with anyone, not at all. But in football, yes, we don’t like Argentina. Less the team – which has players we love, who have played here in Brazil, who are the best in the world – but more the fans and how they behave when they follow the team.

“But, at the same time, some have been really nice. You can’t judge everyone – it’s probably just because they’re in Brazil, we’re neighbours, and they like to laugh at us.”

This was a recurrent theme.

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Rio and Sao Paulo have been hit by torrential rain in recent days

“There are so many of them and most, but not all, have been so rude, arrogant, and not just about the football,” Carlos (Sao Paulo) said.

“Getting drunk, shouting, not washing, touching women… Just all of it.

“Their team has been negative too. Everything about them has been annoying. The Germans, on the other hand, have been great – on and off the pitch.”

[ARGENTINA WIN DIRGE ON PENALTIES]

It’s not just a case sour grapes after Brazil’s humiliating exit either.

Throughout the tournament, I've spoken informally and formally to dozens of Brazilians, all of whom complained about the Argentine fans.

One, a cameraman and Flamengo fan named Felipe, accused them of “sh**ing on” his country, and insisted that – the next time Argentina host a tournament – “200 million Brazilians will sh** back on them”.

Another, a female Turkish expatriate living in Rio, complained about their attitude to women. Which is saying something given the rather macho nature of Brazilian street culture.

It’s ironic writing this from a British perspective – England fans were notorious and probably worse in the past – but things have changed, and certainly the vast majority in Brazil have been respectful and peaceful.

[ARGENTINES REPLACE ENGLISH AS WORLD CUP HOODLUMS]

It is also wrong to cast sweeping generalisations across an entire nation on the basis of the antics of travelling football fans.

But, as a result of this ‘boisterous’ behaviour, most Brazilians want Germany to pick up where they left off in Belo Horizonte. Staff at the Edificio Italia in Sao Paulo were joking that Mineirazo would be forgotten if Joachim Loew’s side put seven past Argentina on Sunday, and everyone I've spoken to wants Thomas Mueller to justify that thrashing at Atletico Mineiro's stadium.

And, unless you’re Dutch, obsessed with Lionel Messi or harbour a deep-seated grudge against Germany, most neutral World Cup fans would probably like to see them follow through that spanking of the hosts.

“It would be anyone but (Argentina),” Carlos (Sao Paulo) added. “But the way the Germans have behaved, both the team and the fans, you have to support them.

“They have done Europe proud, done football proud. All the Europeans have – the Italians and the Dutch fans I’ve met have been so nice, as well as the Germans, and the English [yes, even the English!].

“I know it’s wrong to judge everyone, but the Argentina fans have left a bad taste in the mouth. And we don’t want them to win.”

Even the more placid Anderson was in agreement.

“I don’t want them to win, I don’t think they can win. Germany are just too good."

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Anderson was a faint voice of reason

Rio’s Carlos, from the Tijuca district, watched that fateful match in the Alzirao, the local, unofficial fan fest, which has previously been a carnival of football, dance and affordable Brazilian food, untouched by the spectre of FIFA.

“It was such a disappointment. It hurt here (pointing to his heart). But there are more important things. Healthcare, education, security. Especially healthcare.

“(President) Dilma Rousseff promised us things; she hasn’t given them to us. I really want our country to change. And in the next 20 years, I think it can change. Football is not the most important thing.”

Like I said, this downpour has a cleansing quality. As Neymar continues to milk the nation's sympathy, many Brazilians are moving on.

Carlos (Rio) had one final question for me, one which resonated above the tone of British gripes about the economy, our political system, our national football team.

“Is London as beautiful as they say it is?”

I know my city’s faults, but I had to tell him it was. For without hope, there is no expectation.

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Maher_LDN
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