Argentina: home of God. Yes, Maradona

Boca Juniors fans
Patagonia: a world away from football
River Plate Stadium, aka El Monumental

You won’t find street soccer on Avenida 9 de Julio

Birthplace to enigmatic figures Eva Peron, Che Guevara, Jorge Luis Borges and Diego Maradona (aka ‘God’) and home to 40 million proud, yet playful, people, Argentina will meet your every expectation, and then some.

Typically Latin American in many ways, but with a distinct flavour (mostly of the bovine variety) of its own, Argentina juxtaposes untamed and incredibly vast natural landscapes with frenzied and culturally rich metropolises like Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Rosario.

Okay, so it’s a long flight across the Pacific or from North America, but the journey, especially if taken on Aerolinas Argentinas (the coolest sounding name in aviation), is well worth it.

Comprising the majority of the Southern Cone, Argentina can get pretty chilly, especially in the Andes or in the southern (chocolaty) parts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego (literally, the bottom of the world). But as cool as it can get here, the stirring passion within its people can cause it to get a little warm under the collar. And nothing encapsulates this passion more than the love that Argentines have for football.

Nearly everywhere you go, you will find kids kicking footballs around. The tango may have its origins in Argentina, but most children here prefer to dance around a round ball. More than just a game, futbol in this nation is almost a religion; the winners are praised like homecoming war heroes, and the losers … well, let’s just say that you wouldn’t want to be in their boots.

But if you really want to know what football means to Portenos (Buenos Aires locals), you need to get to a match between bitter rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors. If you’re brave enough to witness one of these games (known as El Superclasicos), you will experience one of sport’s most hair-raising, and at times almost frightening, spectacles (especially if the score is or isn’t 0-0). Both teams are based in Buenos Aires, so whether you head to La Bombonera or El Monumental, you won’t need to travel too far if you’re in the capital.

Despite the fierce rivalry though, all is put aside when the national team runs on to the pitch. Argentinians still wax lyrical about their two World Cup championships, even though it has been 25 years since their last victory. But with two-time FIFA World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi on their side, they may soon grab that elusive third title. If that happens, the streets of Buenos Aires will host the biggest party you are likely to see on the south side of the Equator.

Football, in spite all of this, is still not the national sport of Argentina. No, that honour goes to ‘Pato’. Played on horseback and combining elements of polo and the country’s second most popular sport, basketball, Pato is a game whose earliest origins stretch back some 400 years. Pato, which is Spanish for duck, thankfully no longer uses a live duck (inside a basket) as its ‘ball’, opting these days for a spherical one.

Although football may not be the national sport of Argentina, it may pip Catholicism as the nation’s official religion. Soccrilegious? Perhaps God will forgive me. After all, we are in the nation that spawned a million Diegos.
Source = e-Travel Blackboard: M.H
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