Argentina, 1; U.S., 0

Last week's big soccer match at the Orange Bowl was about more than sports

Never mind more than 50 years of economic domination. Nor the role played in the Seventies by the U.S. government supporting the last military dictatorship (blamed for the disappearance of more than 30,000 people in Argentina). Never mind U.S. cooperation with the British military operation in the Falkland/Malvinas War of 1982, which concluded with the British army triumphantly recovering a couple of dry islands out in the South Atlantic. Ignore all of this before drawing any obvious conclusions about why Argentineans have a love/hate relationship with America.

Concentrate instead on this: Diego Maradona walking out of Boston's Foxboro Stadium after a World Cup soccer game in which Argentina beat Nigeria for the 1994 championship; his hand was immediately grabbed by an American nurse who would administer a urine test. Every Argentinean knew what it meant: humiliation. And every Argentinean knows it's the sort of treatment you can expect from the U.S.

Following confirmation that he took Ephedrine "substances" before the game against Nigeria, Maradona, then Argentina's national team captain, was banned from international soccer (we'll call it soccer to make it easier to understand, but it should be said, at least once, that the sport's name is fútbol!). The test, conducted by University of California experts, showed multiple substances in Maradona's urine.

There were more Argentineans at the Orange Bowl than the 2000 U.S. Census says are supposed to be in Florida; Gov. Jeb Bush (right) attended with new Argentine ambassador Eduardo Amadeo
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
There were more Argentineans at the Orange Bowl than the 2000 U.S. Census says are supposed to be in Florida; Gov. Jeb Bush (right) attended with new Argentine ambassador Eduardo Amadeo

These substances are included in many cold medicines sold in stores without prescription. But in his fans' minds, Maradona wasn't being given a break. Three years before, in 1991, he was suspended for fifteen months while playing in the Italian league, after his postgame anti-doping test revealed traces of cocaine. Everybody outside Argentina thought: "Noooo! He did it again," and closed his case. The second episode was a sad ending to Diego's brilliant international career, and it happened on U.S. soil.

Before and after the incident he was a national hero, his name a symbol and war chant. Maradona was the best Argentine player of the century, and the only one comparable to Brazilian legend Pelé. Under Maradona, Argentina won its second World Cup in Mexico in 1986, and got to the second spot in Italy in 1990. All kinds of journalists and paparazzi trailed him, and his words were translated into many languages, especially when he spoke out against the powerful FIFA (International Federation of Football Association), or on international politics. His dope problem was beside the point. Argentina neededa hero. (For the past few years he's been living in Cuba, taking a lengthy cocaine cure, and befriending Castro, whose face is tattooed on his leg; Che Guevara is on his arm.)

Of course Maradona was remembered Saturday at the Orange Bowl, where more than 25,000 fans went mad while the Argentine national team beat the U.S. 1-0. "Oleeee, olé, olé, olé, Die-go! Die-go!" they screamed, as if they were back home. The chant alternated with another chorus that insisted Argentina will be world champion again. The problem is that Maradona is no longer playing. Not to mention that it's more than three years to the next World Cup. And in the meantime, coach Marcelo Bielsa is shaping a new lineup, which is making Argentina's sports press nervous because its "European" tactics (head butts and general roughhousing) are widely known by now and proven to be ineffective on the field. Especially after the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup disaster, where Argentina -- previously hailed as one of the favorites -- was sent back home after a disappointing first round loss.

People had traveled more than an hour to be at the Orange Bowl, and the game's ridiculous noon starting time. No chance to chill before the whistle, like the "parking lot Anglos" with their steak grills and beer coolers at Dolphin games. Had organizers been thinking of Latino needs, they'd have scheduled it four hours later and doubled the audience. But hey, Argentina was in the U.S.

"I feel like I'm in Buenos Aires," complained one woman dressed, like the several hundred others seated behind the American goalie, in red, white, and blue.

"Looks like we're going to be a minority," said Steve Kellog, age seventeen, waiting in line to get his ticket. He was wearing the U.S. flag and predicted a win based on both national teams' performances in the last World Cup (Argentina quickly eliminated, and the U.S. team moving to the quarter-finals in its best performance in a long time). Steve's friend Josh Crane, age sixteen, suggested a 1-1 or 2-2 tie. Kellog was surprised at the number of Argentineans on hand. "I wasn't expecting this!" he said with a shrug, staring at the light-blue ocean of Argentine jerseys surrounding them. Someone overheard and reacted in Spanish: "Si este partido se hubiera jugado en Argentina, el 99.9 por ciento de la gente estaria vestida de azul y blanco [Had this game been in Argentina, you'd see 99.9 percent blue-and-white shirts]!"

Point is that Miami is changing its shape in the rhythm of immigration waves, and most immigrants are reluctant to admit they had no economic choice but to leave Argentina for good. So are they happy here? Or do they feel they're sleeping with the enemy?

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