“In Cutral Có, Neuquén the city of black gold, petrol, the Selección have arrived for their match against Haiti. A city of just 35,000 people, tickets have been retailing at $200 for the chance to see Maradona’s ballet. Alianza’s ground will be full, they’ve added extra seats. And the police have said that no-one carrying a thermos and maté will be allowed entry.”
So begins Olé‘s article, entitled Blue and White Gold, on the friendly between the Selección local and Haiti, a match organised to raise money for the poor Caribbean nation devastated further by an earthquake in January. This apparent contradiction of a national team consisting solely of locally-based players has been one of the projects most forcefully insisted upon by Diego. It hearkens back to an earlier age, a purer one, they would no doubt say, when Argentina could field a brilliant team featuring the idols of the teams they followed with such distinctive passion and pageantry each week. All but two of the 22 members of the 1978 World Cup winning squad was made up of players who plied their trade in the grandes equipos of Buenos Aires, such as Racing, River, Independiente and Huracán. Today, however, the situation is much changed for obvious reasons.
In pegamequemgusta’s opinion, only a sizeable chip on one’s shoulder and blind nationalism could make anyone believe that the current standard in Argieball bears any relation to that era of Argieball. Nevertheless, a couple of good performances in Primera have been known to suffice for a call-up to Diego’s squads over the last year and a half. And although those call-ups have been shown to be pretty cheap, with players discarded after barely a few minutes and others retained after shambolic performances (Dátolo made his début against Brazil, scored a screamer and never appeared again). Although Diego does seem to take these things seriously enough as auditions for the first team (Palermo, for one, has real chances of going to South Africa), it must be admitted that at this stage they are only played for cash. At least this time, the cash will go to a worthy cause.
At least this is what the organisers are claiming as they gouge the Patagonians for seven times more than it would cost them to go see the players play in a normal league match. Bizarrely, these fans could still be paying for the novelty in six months time as a payment plan has been designed for those with limited cash flow (about 90% of the population in pegamequemegusta’s experience).
Another unusual aspect of the game is the hefty police presence. For a game, a friendly match, which the Haitian coach, Colombian Jairo Ríos, has described as “a relaxation exercise, like taking a pill”, it seems excessive to bring 380 police officers. One hundred and thirty of them will be brought in specially from Neuquén Capital. For crowd trouble? Well, they’ve clamped down on what can be brought. Fans will be allowed to bring mobile phones, cameras and 500cl bottles of water. Yet if that water bottle is one centilitre over, not a chance, and God help you if it’s made of glass. Lighters will be banned as will belts! Are all the extra police being posted for suicide watch? They may have to be: the traditional hotdog, hamburger and empanada vendors have been banned from the stadium for the game.
Pegamequemegusta was surprised upon learning that the match was being played in Patagonia. Then, in a condescending bout of big cityitis, decided it was nice for these mountain people, Sly’s peons and others crushed under the heel of the United Colours of Benetton, to be able to see real legends like Ortega and Palermo in their country’s colours in their home town. Sure it costs way more than usual, but Buenos Aires is a long, long way from Cutral Có. Plus the adventure fits in with the federalist vision propagated in the venues chosen for the Copa América 2011.
On further thought, though, pegamequemegusta wonders what powers are behind this apparently benevolent gesture. Who pulled the strings to have this game played here, of all places? Could it be a similar occasion to the utterly forgettable friendly with Belarus in 2008? Why are there so many police? If the match is to raise money for the Haitians, why is it being played in such a small venue? Is this not a vanity project for some powerful men down in oil-rich Patagonia? Dear, loyal, oh so handsome readers, this is a case for Tintin: Argentina and the Land of Black Gold.