Football, the unifying voice in trying times

Football, the unifying voice in trying times

Soccer has once again emerged as the patriotic touchstone that unites Argentines as they teeter on the precipice, this time threatened by a debt crisis, soaring inflation and the scandal-plagued end to a 12-year political dynasty that has polarised the nation.

The country’s World Cup semifinal victory over the Netherlands in a penalty shoot-out unleashed a collective catharsis on Buenos Aires’ streets Wednesday night the likes of which Argentines have rarely seen in recent times.

Coinciding with Independence Day celebrations, tens of thousands of Argentines dressed in blue and white partied well past midnight in cities across the country. “We’re all in this battle together going forward,” said Osvaldo Darica, owner of a newspaper kiosk in Buenos Aires.

Darica said he is thrilled to see the recent torrent of depressing headlines about rampant crime and one of the world’s highest inflation rates replaced by front-page photos of goalkeeper Sergio Romero, or Saint Romero as he’s now lionised, deflecting two Dutch penalty kicks.

Soccer legend Diego Maradona also wrapped himself in the flag.

“Look at us there, there’s no distinction, we’re all Argentines,” he told Venezuela’s Telesur network while watching images of jubilant fans engulfing Buenos Aires’ iconic Obelisk. “How marvelous and beautiful it is to make people happy.”

Amid the nationalist fervour, one prominent voice has been missing: that of President Cristina Fernandez.

Sidelined the past week with a throat infection, the normally loquacious leader has yet to comment on Argentina’s dramatic win. Not even on Twitter, where she’s a constant presence.

While Argentina’s current economic woes are much easier to surmount than the bayonets of the generals, they nonetheless represent serious risks.

But with a third World Cup championship in sight, those problems at least for now have faded and in their place has emerged a can-do, collaborative attitude.

It’s also likely to boost support for Fernandez, who is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election in 2015 but wants to make sure her final year in office goes smoothly to preserve her legacy and that of her husband and predecessor, the late Nestor Kirchner.

“I’ve never seen Argentines celebrate like this, united and without political banners,” said 16-year-old Santiago Nardello, with an Argentine flag hanging over his shoulders.
Argentina seek their third title triumph and their first since 1986.

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