Argentina's wild World Cup celebrations born out of history and the power football has to bring people together | The Sun

AFTER that shock opening day defeat to Saudi Arabia, Argentina had to take the scenic route on the way to winning the World Cup.

And back home to celebrate with their people, they had to take the scenic route over Buenos Aires.

The plan to tour the city in an open top bus had to be abandoned and the world champions ended up flying over millions of their fans in a collection of helicopters.

The clear hint that last Tuesday’s celebrations would prove all too much came when the players arrived back on home soil in the wee small hours of the morning. They emerged around 4am – and a multitude was there to greet them.

Ezeiza airport is a long way out of the city and its public transport links are poor, and even so thousands had made the sacrifice of going out there to greet the returning heroes.

It was an indication that the following day might be too hard to handle. Fans gathered in their millions, with risks of overcrowding and of mass hysteria. The local hospitals were placed on red alert.

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As the bus passed under bridges fans tried to jump on board from overhead. The ranks of people were so deep that the bus was hardly making progress.

The risks were starting to mount, and the decision to call it off and use helicopters was probably a wise one.

It is easy to take this kind of reaction for granted. We shouldn’t. The mobilising power of football is truly extraordinary – both joyously wonderful and occasionally frightening.

It is worth taking time to ponder on why this is happening, to try to explain why being crowned world champions at football is capable of provoking this visceral reaction in the Argentine people.

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The process is probably best expressed in three stages.

Step one is the sport being introduced by the British, and thus arriving full of first world prestige. Argentina was at the time – the late nineteenth century – an informal part of the British empire, which does much to explain how football began to take hold – through British sailors, railway workers, school teachers.

The British held the purse strings – the reason that Diego Maradona’s two goals against England in 1986 are so important. The goals, and the manner of their scoring, were living out a deep Argentine fantasy.

Step two is the way that the game was reinterpreted by the locals. Buenos Aires was growing exponentially at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with immigrants flooding in from Europe, especially Italy, and the Middle East.

It was an environment hungry for novelty. Football was cheap to play, easy to learn and it gave them a common language.  Moreover, it was ideal for the player with the low centre of gravity – think Maradona or Lionel Messi – which was the physical build of many of the locals.

And so they started to play football their way. Instead of hard, straight line running of the English they developed, with a nudge from the Scottish passing game, a style of football that was more balletic and artistic.

Step three is that this process of reinterpretation led to international triumphs and recognition for a part of the world that feels starved of such things.

It happened first with neighbouring Uruguay. Progressive social policies meant that Uruguay was first off the blocks, because it was drawing on talent from the poorer sections of its society before anyone else.

But Argentina were not far behind and, especially in the 1940s, the golden era of the Argentine game – established themselves as top dogs in a continent that had become the vanguard of football.

They had to wait a long time for a World Cup. When they first claimed the title in 1978 Uruguay had won the competition twice and Uruguay three times.

But in South America Argentina were the leading force. Their players and coaches carried the game up the continent from the southern cone.

Their fans set the tone for stadiums as far north as Mexico.  Argentina has become a football republic.

There are many around the world who have no idea that Argentina is the birthplace of tango music, with its rich cultural history.

But almost everyone is aware that the country gave birth to Maradona and Messi. This is powerful stuff. To one side of Argentina is the vast Atlantic Ocean.

To the other, after a thin strip of Chile, is the huge Pacific.

Geography has placed the country a long way from so much of the world – mountain ranges can even make integration with the rest of South America a difficult task.

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Argentina can be easy to overlook – until the conversation turns to football.

They are proud kings of the global game, out in the streets in their millions to wring every last bit of emotion from the euphoria of a glorious moment.

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