View From the Stands: Argentina-Brazil Friendly

This is a guest post by reader Kinukinu on the Argentina-Brazil friendly at the Meadowlands in New Jersey on Saturday, June 9, 2012. This particular editor was there as well and it was a blast. Enjoy:

I was there.

I had a hell of an adventure on the way, and it almost went horribly pear-shaped (as my British friends say).  But in the end, it was like a beautiful dream that I didn’t want to end.

I originally had plans to see Argentina vs Brazil with a friend, but he suddenly had to leave town on business, and that was that.  Exhausted from a long week of work and with no time to formulate a plan B, no ticket, and no game companion, I was resigned to skip it and watch it on GOLTV…until I woke up this morning and realized that it was just too rare of an opportunity to miss.  I made a last-minute decision to go by myself, hopped on craigslist, and started looking for tickets.  After responding to a few scalper ads, I had a brief email exchange with a dubious guy called “Tango4Sevilla” who claimed to have great tickets at a good price.  Feeling daring, I arranged to meet him on a street corner to buy a 4th row ticket for $150, but as I approached the shady-looking man pacing nervously back and forth next to his dark, beat-up minivan, I was overcome by the suspicion that I was about to be had, so I turned around and walked home.  Downtrodden, but determined, I got back on the computer and found a ticket on Stubhub that I could buy with a credit card and download.

20 minutes and $215 dollars later, I grabbed the printout and headed for the bus station with 2 hours to get to the stadium (which is only 11 miles outside of Manhattan.)  It should have been plenty of time, but apparently the bus company knows nothing about soccer, and grossly undercalculated the demand for seats.  I stood in line for over an hour with hundreds of antsy South Americans, until the line finally started moving.  I boarded the bus 45 minutes before the game was supposed to start.  As we inched our way through gridlock traffic, I frantically hit the refresh button on my IPhone map so many times that it drained half the battery, but I couldn’t get the answer I was seeking: ”1 hour and 10 minutes with traffic to destination,” it kept telling me, and I wanted to cry.  We somehow arrived at the stadium only 7 minutes after kickoff, but just as the driver pulled up to the entrance, the staff told him he couldn’t let us off there.  We circled the stadium three more times, but still couldn’t manage to gain entry.  The fans on the bus grew restless and started yelling angry phrases in Spanish and Portuguese, until everyone stood up and demanded the driver just open the door and let us out at the very back of the enormous parking lot.  We spilled out like a burst dam and everyone just ran for it.

Twenty-two minutes into the game, I finally settled in my seat, sweaty and frustrated, and just in time to have missed the first Brazil goal.  But then I looked up and saw a familiar sight–Javier Mascherano’s determined face, clear as day.  Only now he wasn’t on TV–he was just a few dozen feet away.  I instantly felt better as it sunk in that I WAS THERE.  Moments later, Higuain sent a razor-sharp through-ball to Messi, who ran faster than I could possibly fathom and just like that, he scored the first goal for Argentina.  The stadium errupted into mayhem–if nothing else happened, we had seen what we came to see.  What was left of my anger was washed away as I got swept up in the fever.  Two minutes after that, it happened again: this time an almost identical pass from Di Maria, and another Messi goal.  By now I was wholly committed; the weather was beautiful, the atmosphere was festive (drums, tambourines, samba, costumes, face paint…) I had a ridiculously good seat, (12th row dead center!!) there were goals galore, and a Messi hattrick…what more could a girl want???

I cannot express what it is like to see Messi do what he does in person; when you watch him on TV, the part of your brain that processes movies and other entertainment seems to be trained to take it with a grain of salt, as if there are surely some special effects involved.  In real life, with physical proof that there are no camera tricks or CGI, it is, quite literally, unbelievable.  The euphoria I felt when he scored his third goal actually made me cry–I was so overwhelmed that I literally didn’t know what else to do.  I was being accosted and hugged by complete strangers all around me as we all jumped up and down, and then just looked at each other with strange expressions, utterly dumbfounded at what we had just seen.  One seat neighbor, a lone Brazil fan in a sea of blue and white, couldn’t help but get caught up in it.  He just kept shrugging and shaking his head and saying “Messi.  Messi.  Messi.” over and over.  He wanted to curse and be angry that his team was losing, but he just couldn’t bring himself to mind.  Because he, like the 80,000+ people in the stadium, was in sheer awe.

It all went by so fast, I can hardly believe it happened at all.  Sure, the game was entertaining in general, and there were certainly other moments-the usual Neymar tricks, a hulking Hulk goal, some late red card drama…but there’s no mistaking the fact that above all else this was the Lionel Messi Show–a show that cules have grown accustomed to, while Argentinians have jealously resented their inability to claim the same bragging rights.  But not today.  Today, Messi was the crown prince of Argentina, a worthy captain, and hero of his proud people.

It may have been just a humble summer friendly played in Rutherford, New Jersey, but it sure felt like something special.  It was actual magic, but with no smoke and mirrors.  And I was there.