Argentina’s euphoria not mirrored by Brazil after loss of Neymar
Fascinating contrast in emotions of two South American powerhouses ahead of World cup semi-finals
Argentina’s Javier Mascherano lets out a roar after his side’s victory over Belgium in the World Cup quarter-final in Brasilia on Saturday. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
Two proud Latin footballing nations. Two long-awaited semi-final appearances. Two very different reactions.
Next week Brazil and Argentina – with seven World Cups between them - will contest their first semi-finals in the competition for 12 and 24 years respectively but the mood in each country could not be more different.
After all the frustrations of a near quarter century bidding an early farewell to the tournament Argentina is euphoric at its return to the last four. ‘Glory is Close’ shouts sports magazine El Grafico.
“This was more than a game,” wrote Claudio Mauri of La Nacion about a win at a stage of the tournament in which Argentina has developed the unfortunate habit of exiting. “The challenge was to overcome a trauma, to end this complex over quarter-finals which has repeated itself in three of the last four tournaments. To understand the value of what was achieved you had to see the celebrations of the relieved players at the end.”
There is widespread praise for coach Alejandro Sabella and his decision to drop Federico Fernández for Manchester City’s Martín Demichelis and especially his replacement of the much criticised Fernando Gago with Lucas Biglia. “With (Biglia), the selección won the contest in the middle of the pitch and found the ideal partner for (Javier) Mascherano, who before had been pretty much left alone in the middle,” writes Ezequiel San Martín in Clarín.
Mascherano’s primal roar at the final whistle gets much coverage with Diego Macias in Olé calling him the team’s real leader: “The captain who is not captain, because Messi carries the armband. He is the coach on the pitch, the one Sabella talks to . . . Javier Mascherano is living this Cup with the adrenalin that you have to live it. Always on, a lion in the last games, already undisputable.”
‘Masche’ has long been a favourite of Maradona who labelled him Argentina’s ‘caudillo’ on his television programme. But he was otherwise sober in his analysis of an afternoon in which Argentina carved out few chances. “I believe that Argentina, no playing well, knew how to control the game,” said the man whose legend was partially built on two goals against Belgium in the 1986 semi-final.
But amidst the euphoria there was worry at the news that Angel di María is a serious doubt for the rest of the tournament. Although the Argentine soccer federation (AFE) said further tests would take place on the Real Madrid star on Sunday, some newspapers had already written him off. “Messi’s wingman . . . his absence will be much lamented in the next games,” mourned Pagina/12.
But Argentine angst over di Maria is nothing compared to the bout of mourning that has engulfed Brazil since it was announced that Neymar is out of the tournament following a Colombian knee in his back.
Rather than one of the most expensive groups of players in football you would swear reading much of the coverage that in his absence Brazil has been reduced to a pick-up team on Copacabana Beach. “If for many it was impossible to imagine losing a second Copa in Brazil now that is no longer the case,” writes Juca Kfouri.
Neymar’s recovery is set to become another tear-soaked Brazilian soap-opera in which our hero eventually triumphs over adversity. But it is not hard to root for the easy-going kid with the ready smile who has already indicated he harbours no rancour against Colombia’s Juan Zuñiga for his dangerous challenge. Unfortunately many of his fans are not so big. As well as facing a Fifa charge Zuñiga has been inundated with abuse online – with a disturbing amount of it racist in nature – since the incident.