The early exit for host Argentina threatened to derail the rest of the 2011 Copa America, at least from the fans’ perspective.
The pre-tournament buoyancy in the country was suddenly gone as national hopes of clinching silverware were prematurely dashed. Again.
As home fans were forced to continue their 18-year wait for success, their support for the tournament has understandably become far more passive than before the first of July.
24 hours after the Albiceleste crashed out, so did two other large drawcards, Brazil and Chile. As the Selecao and La Rioja headed for the departure lounge, so did their large contingents of travelling supporters.
With Chile’s four Copa America games a stone throw over the other side of the Andes, it drew the tournament’s largest set of travelling fans, almost 25,000 per game. The cities of San Juan and Mendoza were swarmed with fans of La Rioja, decorating Plazas and streets in a montage of colour and noise.
As the Brazilian winter break conveniently fell during the opening weeks of the tournament, tens of thousands of southern Brazilians flew to Argentina, bringing their attractive samba flair to the stands.
Sadly their last contribution to the tournament was silenced by four missed penalties in the Selecao’s ill-fated shoot-out with Paraguay.
While the failure of many of the favourites has created a far more open race and a sense of excitement for many neutral fans, at ground zero, it threatened to kill the amazing atmosphere that swept through Argentina this month.
The first Semi-Final in La Plata was one of the quickest fixtures to sell out as many anticipated an appearance by Argentina. Instead, minnow Peru faced Uruguay, and as a result, a glut of tickets became available online with thousands more scalped outside the stadium, for as much as US$250.
Peru struggled to attract more than a few thousand fans to its group fixtures, played in the more rural pockets of the nation. However its first semi-final berth in 14 years drew a large set of Peruvian migrants living in Buenos Aires.
They left disappointed. That night that belonged to Uruguay. Just hours from Montevideo, thousands more Uruguayans snapped up the newly available tickets to spur on their nation’s bid for a record 15th title.
A sea of ‘Celeste’ annexed the eastern and western stands, as well as large portions of both ‘Populares’. The sounds of trumpets and drums echoed Uruguay’s dominant performance to send a clear message – the 2011 Copa America is Uruguay’s to lose.
Only 90 minutes away from breaking the record of Copa America triumphs, Uruguay has resuscitated a tournament that desperately needed added fan involvement.
Many boats and flights from Montevideo have sold out ahead of the final. Accommodation in Capital Federal is getting snapped up quickly and there are sure to be a number of Uruguayan workers calling in sick on Monday morning.
At a time where many Argentine football fans are in mourning, Uruguayans have stepped in to fill the void, maintaining a vocal sea of sky blue in the streets and stadiums.
Cars draped in Uruguay flags are still honking through the streets of Buenos Aires, much to the confusion of the already over-congested traffic. One car marked the height of Uruguayan celebrations, flying the flags of rival clubs Nacional and Peñarol as fans spilled out of the windows belting out football songs.
The fall out of Argentina’s departure has resulted in widespread internal condemnation, of both coaching and playing staff. While Argentine’s are disappointed, they hold little resent towards their neighbours from across the river and many have even jumped on the Uruguay bandwagon.
Both Argentine’s and Uruguayan’s are culturally identical. They speak the same Spanish dialect, have identical cuisines and share similar histories. In fact, both sets of football fans sing the same songs, though both will argue as to their origins.
The night of July 24th 2011 was widely and romantically viewed as the night Argentina would finally break its silverware drought on home soil. Instead, Estadio Monumental could play host to another chapter of history.
With an expected sell-out crowd of mostly Uruguayans, it could be the night where another nation achieves history in front of a 50,000 strong parochial crowd.
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