Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
It was a match made by the soccer gods, one they ultimately wouldn’t allow. But here—in the concourse of São Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, outside sections 424 and 425—Brazil and Argentina were determined to make it happen. It was more than an hour before kick off of the World Cup’s second semi-final, and two of South America’s most bitter rivals were facing off.
Or, rather, their fans were.
The Argentinians, buoyed by Brazil’s brutal blowout and the beer they’d been drinking for hours, had a renewed swagger. It was a South American tournament and they were the only South American team remaining. They were the hosts now, and the stadium, which was once shrouded in yellow and was now blue and white, rang with a chorus of mockery: Siete! Siete! Siete!
It was the cruelest kind of insult. From behind the long lines snaking towards counters serving Brahma and burgers, a group of orange bodies yelled back in furious protest. Only they weren’t really Dutch. Imposters. They sang in perfect Portuguese. Brazilians hiding behind the colors of their rival’s opponents. The rebuttal:
Mil gols, mil gols
mil gols, mil gols, mil gols
Só Pelé, só Pelé
A thousand goals [scored by Pele], a thousand goals
A thousand goals, a thousand goals, a thousand goals
Only Pele, Only Pele
Maradona is a cocaine sniffer
But bygone heroes are no match for current realities, and the Argentinians needed only to yell back “Alemania!” to remind Brazil of theirs: They no longer had a place in this tournament.
When the semifinal finally started, both teams played well in the cold rain. Argentina controlled the first half; Netherlands controlled the second. The Dutch fans outdressed the Argentinians—as they do most fan groups, with their neon orange suits and wigs and dyed beards and boas—but their chants never got as loud as their clothes. They were drowned out. This wasn’t about them any longer: There was a football match being played on the pitch, but in the rest of the stadium there was a war being fought for South America.
The night’s best action happened by the urinals. The long lines and confined spaces—Brazil’s inability to organize a streamlined bathroom process enacted quiet revenge on the bladders of their Argentine enemies—bred increased hostility. The longer Argentina went without scoring a goal, the more drunk and louder its fans got. Brazilians were quick to remind them—again—that their hero, Maradona, was still a coke head, and that they had five World Cups to Argentina’s two. Goodbye, Argentina! they sang.
It didn’t matter.
Uno. Dos. Tres. Cuatro. Cinco. Seis. SIETE!!
Each number a gut punch. Each “seven” a dagger in the heart.
Back outside, the rain picked up and a chill swept over the stadium. It was the same rain I saw in Rocinha the previous day, which canceled the party Brazil never got to have. The Brazilian’s should have known this time too. Their storm wasn’t over.
The match went to penalties and the chanting masses were overcome with tension. The two sides playing in the game—the Brazilians and the Argentinians—realized that now the action on the field mattered so much more, that each touch of the ball was inextricably bound to the war they were fighting. The Brazilians appeared more confident than before; the Argentinians more nervous.
Then Romero made a save. The Argentinians jumped up and down and hugged each other. Then Messi and Garay scored. Romero made another save. Agüero. Rodriguez. It ended. The players streaked across the field. Fans in the stands ripped off their shirts, their screams a mix of joy, relief, and provocation.
The Brazilians retreated from their own stadium into a city ringing with the sounds of their enemies. They had gone thirty-nine years without losing a competitive match on home soil. Now, they’d lost twice in two nights. The Argentinians unfurled their banners and danced. Their songs carried through the gaps in the stadium, out into the night and beyond São Paulo and toward Rio, inching closer to the Maracanã, where they hope to rip out the still heart of an already dead Brazil.
Siete. Siete. Siete.