I don’t know why and how I write this, but here it goes. Until Qatar 2022 began, of the last four previous World Cups, between Germany 2006 and Russia 2018, due to my work as a journalist I had been in three. The one that just ended this Sunday with Gonzalo Montiel’s penalty and the most romantic kiss in the world, the one from Lionel Messi to the World Cup, I followed from my country: a couple of Argentina games in front of the television with my teammates writing and the rest, like this final today, among friends, my family and our children in the consummation of the final rite, that of soccer, the barbecue and the fernet.
Although at the age of 48 I also traveled a lot as a fan, especially to follow my team, River -I flew to Japan for a final that we lost 3-0, I arrived in Spain with just enough for a final that we won 3-1 and I got on on a bus bound for Peru on an 85-hour trip, one way only, for a game we lost in the last three minutes-, the magnetic field of soccer is so enormous that it is not only experienced in the stands. I don’t know what happened in this World Cup, or yes – Lionel Messi’s last, a team that awakened the sensitivity of the new generations, the need to celebrate as much as possible in a twisted country, the atypicality of a World Cup in summer for the southern hemisphere-, but Argentina has become a soccer stadium, not now, on this Sunday when I hear the horns and shouts in Buenos Aires, but since the previous matches.
If in 2026 there will be a venue divided between the United States, Mexico and Canada, the 2022 World Cup has already been played on the playing fields in Qatar and in the stands of Argentina for 50 million spectators, 13,000 kilometers away. Our Decembers are special, none more deadly than that of 2001, but they will no longer only have a spectral halo or claims for social improvements: we will remember that of 2022 as a soccer takeover of the streets. We’re having such a good time -and who knows when this delirium ends- that it makes you want to tell Santa Claus no, thank you, but he doesn’t have to come next week. Come back later. I was lucky: I wanted to see this World Cup – I needed to see it – next to my son, Felix, 6 years old, in his first World Cup with a conscience.
In many of these seven games for Argentina in Qatar 2022, also this Sunday when he is already on the red carpet in this part of the world where the wind blows against him, he and his friends – all dressed as Argentina, all with the 10 of Lionel Messi on the back – they went to other corners of the houses to play and returned to the screens together with the explosions of the goals or in the most tense moments, such as against the Netherlands, that battle of Thermopylae in a sports version, Or like today in the second half when Kylian Mbappe showed that he was the irresistible enemy, or in the penalty shootout when I jumped on top of Felix to tell him “you have no idea what this is, football is not always happy”. “I want to go to the pool, soccer is a mess,” he had complained one 38-degree day when he arrived at a friend’s house, before the game against Australia in the quarterfinals, and yet he always returned to the television because Messi made history in the present tense. Because on top of that, for a little hen from River like my son, Julian Alvarez began to celebrate the goals with his spider-man gestures that until July he was dressed in red and white. One day you will be able to tell him that, in a certain way, they made their debut together: the first time I took Felix to the field was the game in which Argentina’s most unsuspected 9 in the World Cup debuted in the First Division, a River-Olympus of late of 2018. But it also happened today: I asked Felix and his 6-year-old friends, during extra time against France, if they were playing football with each other because they had been nervous about the 2-2 or 3-3 partial and France I had tied us out of nowhere, and they answered me that football – the 90 minutes – bored them. I half believed them.
I think about how my World Cups were more or less at the age of Felix and his friends -at 3 years and 10 months, the one we won in Argentina in 1978, or when we were close to eight, the one we lost in Spain 1982-, and I notice that there are things that I would understand much later. In times when I still didn’t know that soccer always exaggerates life and that the World Cups exaggerate soccer, I got angry with my dad and my uncles because, a few months or years later, they remembered with fright that Argentina had been about to lose the World Cup. 78 for a shot from a Dutch footballer who hit the post in the last minute of the final. “But if we won 3-1,” I replied, unaware that Argentina scored their last two goals in extra time after 90 minutes that ended 1-1 and that, indeed, by inches they did not go to Amsterdam in the final seconds. .
Those were days – and in the final it was just minutes and seconds – in which we hugged Felix after each goal and each victory, even each penalty saved by Dibu Martinez. From now on it will be up to him, in the coming years, to put together his own construction of Qatar 2022, of Messi (who, alas, may not play for the national team anymore) and even of Diego Maradona, whom he did not see play but he already wants as if he were a contemporary of his.
I was not such a soccer fan at his age, at 6, although in Spain 1982 I ran away from class in third grade to ask how the game against Italy was going. In 2022 it was not necessary: in Argentina classes were suspended when the national team played. Nobody questioned it in the country, not even the opposition: soccer teaches a lot, almost everything, to win, to lose, to be in community. The magic of Maradona and Beto Alonso, River’s idol in the 70s and 80s, were the extra glue of a relationship, mine with my old man, which had not always been intertwined with the natural adhesive of paternity. If he transferred his I love you, his hugs and his kisses with a dropper, it is because warmth was not part of his educational combo. Then I saw football as a district where I could compensate for my need for more affection and, so that my old man would be my fan, I started out as a fan of River and Argentina. I hope Felix doesn’t feel that need, as I keep hugging him and saying “I love you” when Messi kisses the World Cup.
This World Cup is an exaltation of that permitted, self-prescribed folly. Soccer is our journey, our permitted fiction, and a new example of how it crushes our most rational logic. I recently read I thought my father was God a compilation of letters by Paul Auster, stories that the listeners of the radio program that the American writer hosted in the nineties sent him under a single premise: that they were true stories of their lives. I underlined a passage, “our attachments are fierce; our loves overflow us, define us, blur the limits between us and others”, and I celebrated this combination between football, Auster and travel. Sometimes I suspect that soccer, so real and fictional, is an invention of literature. My son will embrace that theory, I think, while Messi -with Felix by my side- kisses the World Cup and, finally, catches up with Maradona. I guess that’s why I wrote this.
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