On the face of it Argentina should, in my view, have lifted the Copa América. But the dice was loaded against them. Though they were good on the ground they conceded defeat – and how (4-1)! – on penalties. Perhaps they were jittery playing on the home ground of their opponents. And yes, they were playing in Santiago, the capital of Chile.
I felt the Argentinians played like the Germans with their precision passing and generally restrained demeanour. The Chileans in comparison were florid and all over the place, with their heavy build. Messi was lucky to have escaped unscathed after Medel’s vicious blow to his solar plexus. Isn’t it always sad that despite the refereeing (or inspite of it) the beautiful game almost always degenerates to the mundane with its rough play.
I secretly wanted Chile to win though. Their performance in the World Cup has not been so eventful while Argentina have held centre stage with the media hype from day one. ‘The hand of God’ certainly helped them to a dubious victory in the 1986 FIFA World Cup against England. But successive reports of Maradona saw him losing out on life with his descent into drugs. Their spat with Britain over the Falklands in 1982 seemed to make them more European than Latin.
Chile came from the world of Neruda:
Night, snow and sand make up the form
of my thin country,
all silence lies in its long line,
all foam flows from its marine beard,
all coal covers it with mysterious kisses.
Gold burns in its fingers like an ember
and silver illuminates like a green moon
its thickened shadow of a sullen planet.
And how must we forget Borges, the great Argentine poet?:
My soul is in the streets
of Buenos Aires
Not the greedy streets
jostling with crowds and traffic,
but the neighbourhood streets where nothing is happening,
almost invisible by force of habit,
rendered eternal in the dim light of sunset,
and the ones even further out,
empty of comforting trees,
where austere little houses scarcely venture,
overwhelmed by deathless distances,
losing themselves in the deep expanse
of sky and plains.
There must be a winner and there must be a loser in the game of life. When the titans of South America clashed for the Copa América the finals were played out between two neighbouring countries, viz. Chile and Argentina. Though the former faces the Pacific, the latter the Atlantic their poets have bequeathed to us a poetry that is unmatched in any continent.
Chile did have an Argentine coach in Sampaoli. They managed to do what Brazil could not in front of their home crowd in the World Cup last year.
Football has changed today. Both Chile and Argentina played attacking football and employed negative tactics. But certainly poetry could unite them.
From ‘Discoverers of Chile’ by Pablo Neruda (1904-73) translated from the Spanish by Anthony Kerrigan; from ‘The Streets’ by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) translated from the Spanish by Stephen Kessler.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on Sunday, 12 July 2015. Pix of Copa America logo courtesy soccerparole.com; pix of church of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile courtesy travel.nationalgeographic.com; pix of sunset over Buenos Aires courtesy absolutelatinamerica.com