A quieter than usual Friday night in Buenos Aires erupted in cheers, horn-blowing and, in my street, the usual aimless youths bashing on an old tin gate, as the city celebrated Argentina’s 1-0 win against Nigeria for the Olympic gold medal in football. They also won the gold in Athens, against Paraguay.
The game wasn’t quite as exciting as the Brazil-Argentina match on Tuesday morning, which buzzed with the habitual frisson that these neighbours and old-time rivals generate. Brazil hadn’t conceded a single goal when they met Argentina, but were convinvingly outplayed 3-0. Strangely, Brazil has never managed to bag Olympic gold in football.
While I was tucked under a rug all cosy, the players looked like they occasionally struggled in the 32-degree heat. The umpires even stopped play a couple of times so the footballers could have a drink of water. By 2.30am I, too, was struggling, having trouble keeping my eyes open on the couch. But I managed to catch Ángel Di María’s goal, set up by that ingenious little man, Lionel Messi – known here in Argentina as “La Pulga”, or The Flea, for his lightening-speed dribbles. As always, it was delightful to watch Messi’s amazing moves. It’s just so thrilling whenever he has the ball – it’s like the pleasure one gets watching the best dancer in the room.
The win reverses Argentina’s 1996 loss against Nigeria in Atlanta, and makes Javier Mascherano, who was also part of the winning 2004 team, the only double gold-holder in Argentina. Argentina is the first team in 40 years to successfuly defend the football gold medal, after Hungary won in 1964 and ’68.