BUENOS AIRES — Soccer greatness gave Argentines a much-needed diversion from their troubles during the World Cup. And on Monday, they’re in for a major hangover.
So after the national team’s tough 1-0 loss Sunday in a thrilling final, fans in this city stuck around in bars and plazas after the game, not quite ready to sober up.
At the Por Amor al Café in downtown Buenos Aires, they gave the team a long, sustained applause after the final whistle. It seemed to be as much for the players as for the country itself, and the momentary, if fleeting, sense of riding together on one big fluffy soccer cloud.
“This is a message to the whole country,” said café owner Walter Espinosa, his eyes welling up. “We are getting better every day and if we work together, as a team, we can get far. Hopefully Argentines can live more happily now, remembering the joy their team gave them.”
It was a night to remember that Argentines are more than great soccer players. They also are great soccer philosophers.
The national team, known here as La Seleccion (The Chosen), gave the country something to cheer for during a time of relentless bad news and sharp political division.
Inflation in the country is running near 40 percent. Argentina’s vice president is facing corruption charges. A recent U.S. federal court judgment has ordered the government to pay back the creditors whom President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner derides as “vultures.” Many worry their savings will be wiped out if Argentina defaults on its debts for the second time in 13 years.
All those worries will return Monday morning. So fans in this city headed after the game to the iconic Buenos Aires obelisk for a huge feel-good rally.
The team’s World Cup run, said factory worker Diego Morales, “managed to unify the country, rich and poor,” at a time when the fraying dynasty of Fernández and her late husband, in power since 2003, has left Argentines too often feeling as though they’ve been playing on opposing teams.
“Right now there is so much polarization: You are either against the government or in favor. These two groups never meet in a public event but here we are all together, supporting the same team,” said Morales, 36. “We hope that this feeling can move on beyond football and become true in politics, too."
During the game, some fans even began singing a new version of a famous song by Argentine songwriter León Gieco, "Solo le pido a Dios," or, "I only ask God."
Only the new version went: "I only ask God that the vulture funds forgive our debt, and that La Selección become world champions."
It was not to be -- an especially tough blow to the thousands of fans who traveled to Rio for the event. They had long since fallen silent when the game ended, reeling from Germany’s winning goal.
“Argentina will be very sad,” said Nicolas Raffo, 39, a fan inside Rio’s Maracanã stadium. "But in a couple of weeks they will forget it."
In downtown Buenos Aires, a dejected Juan Salischiker, a 21-year-old history student, declined to join the other fans heading to the obelisk, even though "in this country we don't often get a chance to celebrate."
"I don't feel like partying now," he said.
Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.