Fans in convoy flock to tournament in support of beloved White and Sky Blue
The vast majority are ticketless, but devotion is reason enough to pack up and travel
Pit stop: fans pull in for breakfast during the odyssey that is supporting Argentina in the World Cup
Table manners: showing the colours on the road in support of former World Cup winners Argentina
Gang of Four: on the road again in support of Argentina at the World Cup tournament in Brazil
It is the morning after Argentina’s agonisingly late victory over Switzerland and in São Paulo’s samba stadium bleary-eyed Argentine fans are taking their morning yerba mate tea after a long night’s celebrations.
Authorities have thrown open the doors to the venue of the city’s annual carnival parade, turning it into an urban campsite for the “Argentine Invasion” as the Brazilian media is calling the tens of thousands of Argentina fans who are following their team at the World Cup.
After decades when the cost of intercontinental travel meant having to support their heroes from afar, many Argentines are making the most of the first World Cup on South American soil in 36 years to finally get close to the action, piling into cars and vans and driving off to Brazil.
Manuel and Claudia Pedraza have already driven their van 2,800km from their home in Córdoba, first heading to Porto Alegre for the game against Nigeria and then making their way up Brazil’s southern states to São Paulo for the match against the Swiss. And all without any hope of getting a ticket for either match.
“Not a chance!” laughs Manuel sipping on his mate. “They are just too expensive. Fifa and the Argentine FA only care about the rich, not fans like us. But South America is football mad and we had to wait far too long for the World Cup to come back here so we just wanted to be part of it and to be close to our team.”
This desire to experience the World Cup for the first time also inspired Walter Insaurralde and three friends from the city of Resistencia to jump in his car and drive 2,300km to São Paulo just for the Swiss game despite none of them having tickets and touts demanding an impossible $1,100 (€800) for one.
“We love football but other World Cups were too expensive for us to think about going to but this one we could experience,” he says. “This continent is very fútboleiro so Fifa should make sure the tournament comes here every eight or 12 years. This invasion of fans from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and elsewhere shows the hunger here for a World Cup.”
Having driven that distance to watch the match at São Paulo’s Fan Fest Insaurralde’s, the group must drive home. “We’d love to go on to the quarters but we have to get back to work.”
For each of Argentina’s four games at the tournament so far dozens of extra flights have brought thousands of fans, many with tickets, to Brazil. But on a continent where regional integration lags far behind Europe and even travel between neighbouring countries remains expensive the things that has captured the Brazilian imagination has been the convoys of cars, vans and motor homes from neighbouring countries often full of ticketless fans.
Before the tournament there were the usual scare stories in Brazil’s media about Argentine football hooligans descending on the country. And there have been one or two minor late-night disturbances between young Argentine and Brazilian fans, usually after marathon drinking sessions before or after games.
However, encounters have been overwhelmingly friendly. “The reception from Brazilians all along the way has been great. The rivalry between us is only in the stadium. Since we’ve got here we’ve met people from everywhere, swapping football tops and having fun,” says Demián Pontnau.
Pontnau is from Tigre, just north of Buenos Aires and he has travelled with nine friends and relatives in a motor home stocked with mate, dulce de leche and salami. Like many in the sambódromo his group is getting ready to make the 1,000km
drive to Brasília for the quarter-final match against Belgium. “Our countries are much bigger than yours in Europe so these distances are not so much for us,” he shrugs.
At least five of Pontnau’s group have tickets for the Belgium game, placing them in with the lucky few packing up in São Paulo. But despite the huge desire to see an end to the country’s long drought at international level no one is taking anything for granted despite the dramatic late intervention from Angel di Maria to secure victory over the Swiss.
“[Coach Alejandro] Sabella still has to sort out the team properly. But we have Messi, the best in the world,”
says Pontnau, his hopes left unspoken. But even if Argentina is to win the title he does not think the feat will be enough to see Messi elevated alongside Diego Maradona: “No. Maradó was more of a captain. Maradó played in Argentina. Messi no.”
And if Argentina are eliminated? “Then I’ll support another team from America,” says Tomas Cácares, one of a group of friends from the small town of Lobería who is packed into a van as he and his compatriots follow the team around.
“I’d even support Brazil, so long as it is not someone from Europe. This is our continent’s Copa.”