NIZHNIY, Novgorod, Russian Federation, Jun 22 – It was the morning after the night before for Argentinian fans in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday and the recriminations from the devastating Croatia defeat just hours earlier were well underway.
The realisation that the 3-0 thumping by Croatia — complete with comedy first goal — had left the mighty two-time winners on the verge of a humiliating exit, left some of their fans in tears.
On Friday, many remained stunned by what had happened.
“We can’t sleep, we can’t talk, we can’t do anything,” said Sebastian, a 34-year-old lawyer who had travelled to Russia from Rosario.
“We’ve never seen anything like last night.”
The team, he said, had shown no “huevos”, using the Spanish slang for testicles.
Susi, a grandmother from Buenos Aires who spent an eye-watering $40,000 taking her son and grandson to Russia, said the result was so bad it could have implications for Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, as he battles economic problems at home.
“If Argentina loses, it can become a social problem,” she said.
The defeat was arguably the most shocking result of the tournament so far.
A team thought among the favourites for the World Cup, with superstar Lionel Messi as captain, were not expected to struggle through the first stage.
They certainly weren’t expected to play so badly.
The result was Argentina’s worst at a World Cup since being dismantled by Johan Cruyff’s “Total Football” Dutch side 4-0 on a thundery night in West Germany back in 1974.
Nor were Argentina meant to rely on the results of Iceland or Nigeria just to remain in Russia.
With one point from two games, their fans were desperate for Nigeria to beat Iceland in Friday’s game to retain hope of qualifying for the knockout stage.
“Today, all my country is Nigerian,” joked Nicolas, 41, a company owner from Buenos Aires.
Fans of the “Albiceleste” could be spotted all around Nizhny on Friday.
Some were walking round town in kit, others with “Lio” shaved into their hair, and those draped in the country’s flag, like Santiago, a student from the south of Argentina, as he prepared to head to Saint Petersburg for Argentina’s crucial final Group D match on June 26.
Who was to blame? The embattled coach Jorge Sampaoli or the curiously listless players who have failed to produce, including the great Messi?
“I believe that the coach is not sure what he wants, or he is unable to pass this onto the players,” said Santiago.
“But they also have to play, after all they are professionals.”
– Down, but not out –
Despair though had turned to hope in the cold light of day, or at least the first signs that all was not lost.
Cousins Juan and Valentino from Cordoba were about to embark on a 20-hour journey by train and plane via Moscow, Rome, Madrid and Buenos Aires to go home.
Their Russian odyssey was over but maybe not their team’s.
Valentino complained that the Argentinian public and media put too much pressure on the side.
“The people think that the only way is to win the World Cup, they don’t consider it a probability to lose,” said Valentino, a 19-year-old student.
Juan called for as many as five changes in the team for the Nigeria game.
“We have a potential chance, it’s time to support the team,” said the 37-year-old accountant hopefully.
“We were in the same situation as we are now (when qualifying for the World Cup).
“We did it one time, so we can do it again.”