Argentina, 1; U.S., 0

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

"I wouldn't call it 'hate,' just a certain resentment," said long-time Telemundo and Univision sportscaster Norberto Longo. He's been in America for 21 years, after being jailed and censored by the military thugs ruling his home between 1976 and 1983. "That is based on the political image the U.S. has in the world, an image now part of this government's attitude.... This administration does its best to be hated." Longo quickly added that the Argentineans living here don't feel the same as those back home. "[Once you get here, you see that] Americans are open, simple people."

He pointed out that there's no way to see an Argentina vs. U.S. soccer game as a cultural rivalry, like an Argentina vs. England match: "It can't happen here. The U.S. national team is like the country -- no history, no hate, no rancor -- it's just a group of athletes that play soccer well, who've evolved a lot, and are very intelligent ..."

On the day before the game, midfielder Federico Insua said the match "is only a matter of sportsmanship ... I can't think of any political connotation.... We can't go on the field having that kind of thing in mind. Especially considering this is a friendly match," with no championship ramifications.

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

The Falkland/Malvinas War wounded Argentina's pride far more than the IMF deadlines did (many Argentineans hold the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund guilty of cutting off Argentina's international credit), and that's implicit in every quote involving U.S. vs. Argentina. Juan, 32, has been living here for the past ten years, and wore an Argentine jersey over a white shirt with the U.S. flag. "When you come here you tend to forget," he said of what he called his second home. "I've raised a family in Miami and I'm grateful for that, there's no political connotation about us living here, but at the same time, there's something that never washes, and it's like a rip in our heart after what the U.S. did to us in the war [backing Britain]."

Susana is 45, and has been in Miami with her family for the past three years, not enough time to forget the economic insults, as she said. "The IMF is what it is, and you never lose the Argentine idiosyncrasy ... you don't forget your political ideas, but we had to flee thanks to [1989-1999 President Carlos] Menem. Him and [ex-economy minister Domingo] Cavallo are IMF symbols in Argentina." (Both are seen as IMF/U.S. puppets there.) She added that her family is having a hard time blending into Miami. "We are really different. That's why I'm so happy today, because we're going to share [an event] full of Argentineans, same feelings, same ideology. You always miss that."

Oscar, from New Jersey, where he spent the last 20 years (he's 40), dissented from his newly arrived soccer pals about politics and sports: "When you are in Argentina, you have a different idea. Once you get out it's easier to see that we're making excuses for the corrupt Argentine system. They'll say some foreign country is robbing Argentina while the ones doing it are the delinquents in charge." His friends did not agree.

There's something about the U.S. flag in Argentina now. Every time a representative of the IMF or the American government visits Argentina, you'll see protesters burning flags, breaking windows and ATMs of U.S. banks.

"Fútbol is a passion everything else gets behind," declared Alberto, 24, who has been living in Naples for the past four years and had brought along some Argentine friends. He meant sports are an escape valve, something the Romans and Greeks figured out, and that is basically what moved the 27,196 people who paid $25 and up for tickets. Gov. Jeb Bush, escorted by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and the new Argentine ambassador in Washington, Eduardo Amadeo, seemed to know it too, and consequently made successful low-key entrances.

As he did last June, when Argentina played the Orange Bowl, Bush took a secure spot and watched the way Argentine immigration is shifting. Before his eyes were more Argentineans than are supposed officially to exist in the whole of Florida. (According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were almost 23,000 Argentineans in the state, and 13,341 in Miami-Dade. The audience at the Orange Bowl alone, 90 percent Argentine, doubled the estimate for Miami.)

Noemi Vayula, eighteen years in the city and a cashier at Publix, said it best: "If they hadn't canceled the visa waiver program that allowed Argentineans to come here [freely] between 1996 and 2002, by now we'd have more Argentine [residents] than Cubans." Unofficially there are many more than a hundred thousand Argentineans in Florida as a result of the economic crisis that has almost destroyed their country.

In fact the members of the Argentine team, playing at the Orange Bowl, were doing the same thing their fellow countrymen do. That is, come here and get paid in U.S. dollars. They played three games in nine days (3-1 vs. Honduras in San Pedro Sula; 1-0 vs. Mexico in Los Angeles; and 1-0 vs. U.S. in Miami) and cashed in $600,000, a slightly lower harvest compared with the $1 million they got last November to play in Japan. The bigger fees have to do with the players involved. If you want to see the "hot" Argentine players who shine week after week in the European leagues, then you'd have to pay between $500,000 and $1 million, as will happen in April, when the best players go to Libya.

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