Reda Maher

Brazil 360: Argentina fans finally believe after narrow Belgium win

Reda Maher

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The knockout stages of this World Cup seem to be about the art of doing just enough to get through.

With the exception of France’s bizarre 2-0 win over Nigeria, matches have either come down to one goal, or penalties.

[ARGENTINA'S SUPPORTING CAST FINALLY PERFORM]

The old cliché of there being no easy games at this level has largely been justified, although at the time of writing the Netherlands were yet to kick off against underdogs Costa Rica.

And it was thus as Argentina – one of the pre-tournament favourites and boasting Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player of all time – faced Marc Wilmots’ highly-rated but inexperienced Belgium, who had won all of their previous matches by the odd goal.

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Rio de Janeiro has been the subject of an Argentine invasion, which has not always gone down so well with the locals.

“They are sh**ting on our country,” Felipe, Rio born and raised, told me. “I hope they get to host the 2030 World Cup, because all of Brazil will go to Argentina and sh*t right back.”

Others have told tales of sleazy men trying it on with any woman they see, while a female Turkish journalist had one Argentina fan ejected from his seat in Sao Paulo after he repeatedly made lewd comments gestures towards her. There's always one, but there seem to be a few more.

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Harsh words but, as a relatively affluent neighbour, Argentina has sent legions of (mostly male) fans to Brazil, some driving over the border and camping out wherever they can, most without tickets, and not all entirely respectful of their hosts; recall England fans in the 1990s and you get the gist.

At Rio’s FIFA Fan Fest, though, the mood was generally jovial as Argentina fans mingled with Belgians and locals, who were obviously supporting the Europeans.

Some Argentine couples and families had come along had a safe place here to watch the game, with overall behaviour no more than boisterous, if the language a little fruity.

Even offensive songs about Pele were generally met with comedy jeering and laughter, which bodes well for a final which could feature both sides.

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During the match, only Argentine fans could be heard – they had packed out the outdoor, beach arena – dominating as they have for much of this World Cup.

It was a tight enough game, with Argentina taking the lead through a fine finish from Gonzalo Higuain, and Angel Di Maria impressing until he was forced off with a thigh injury.

Belgium fought back, creating some decent second half chances, but with Argentina also rattling the woodwork they never really looked in danger.

It was a better match than Germany and France’s tepid encounter on Friday, and possibly less dramatic than Brazil’s win over Colombia.

Certainly, Argentina have nothing to fear from any of the sides they could face – apart from possibly the Dutch, provided they get through.

"We’re going all the way to the final” said this fan, dressed as the Pope (who is Argentine), albeit with images of Saints Messi and Maradona on his tunic.

"We may not win it – only God knows – but we have Him on our side."

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It was hard to know whether he was referring to the Catholic deity, or Maradona – the two are almost interchangeable for many Argentines. La mano de Dios, and all that.

The below fans, who I later filmed singing a Rangers song after being taught the words by a Glaswegian (possibly the strangest thing I’ve seen all tournament), went further.

"We’re going to win it! Brazil are sh*t! They’re nothing without Neymar and we still have Messi!

"Germany are good though. And they usually beat us. But we'll do it this time!"

[BRAZILIANS DROWN SORROWS AFTER NEYMAR BLOW]

Quite. Although Argentina will have to display some serious resistance if they end up facing the Brazil we saw in the first half against Colombia, or indeed Germany, who will fancy themselves as favourites to reach the final.

The pragmatist in me sees Germany as tournament favourites – they’ve not played particularly well, but then most champions don’t until it counts.

The romantic in me wants hosts Brazil to win it, to honour poor Neymar, who we won’t see again until the new season starts.

But, if Messi is to truly rival Maradona for the title of ‘greatest ever’, he does have to win the World Cup. And we wouldn’t want to break this kid’s heart now would we?

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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