The Good Air of Buenos Aires
The capital of Argentina, the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, has a very poetic name that can be translated from Spanish as “fair winds” or “good airs.” Our Lady of Good Air is patron saint of the province of Buenos Aires. The legend goes that a statue of Virgin Mary was taken from the sea after helping to weaken a storm in the Mediterranean, earning it the fame of the “fair winds”, or buen ayre. A devotee of this newly named saint, Santa Maria del Buen Ayre, was Pedro de Mendoza, a Spanish sailor who established the first port of Buenos Aires in what is now San Telmo, and gave the port its name because it was deemed to be southern enough to evade a strain of marshland mosquitoes, making it a malaria-free port. Upon arrival, it did not take long to enjoy the cool winter breeze of good air in Buenos Aires. My first time to this beautiful destination, I was immediately in awe of the amazing culture. There is a rhythm to life here that is unlike any of my previous experiences. Monk Parakeets are lazily perched amongst the trees. Dogs are being walked without a leash. The Asadas are cooking prime meats for a minimum of 5 hours over a wood fire - propane is prohibited. The house wine is a Malbec from Mendoza. The elderly are escorted through the streets by their spouse or children. The locals are constantly debating which region’s empanadas are superior - Tucuman or Saltena?! From the artisans in San Telmo to the Tango in La Boca, history is well preserved and the priorities of life in Argentina are in proper order.
Football is a Fundamental Part of the Culture
Football is deeply ingrained in Argentine culture and a source of national pride. From the streets of Buenos Aires to the small villages scattered throughout the country, football is a unifying force that brings the nation together and sparks intense passion. Led by the legendary Mario Kempes, the Albiceleste (the nickname bestowed upon the national team as an homage to white and sky blues of their jersey, and the flag) hosted and claimed their first World Cup triumph in 1978 by defeating the Netherlands at Estadio Mas Monumental. 1986 in Mexico City, Diego Armando Maradona and Jorge Burruchaga put the second star above the Argentine Football Association badge (each star indicating a World Cup victory) by defeating the West Germans. Bringing us to the present day, we are privileged to have witnessed Lionel Messi lead the Argentines to the top of the football world for the third time. The World Cup final victory over France, in Doha, Qatar, will be remembered as one of the best in history. After each of these World Cup victories, every inch of Buenos Aires’ streets and sidewalks were occupied, and fans were hanging from every elevated position to celebrate being champions of the world. If you close your eyes you can still hear the World Cup victory chants throughout the streets, long after the party has ended. Fumando Porro, Tomando Vino….
August 1, 2023 | River Plate vs Internacional
Immediately upon settling into my apartment in the Nunez neighborhood, I walked to Estadio Mas Monumental in search of a ticket to the River Plate vs Internacional round of 16 Copa Libertadores 1st leg. River Plate won the match 2-1, with the teams set to meet again a week later in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Although my stubhub ticket was not successfully delivered, I was able to partake in the prematch festivities (music, chants, flares, fernet and asada) and meet Diego, a local River Plate supporter. This chance meeting started a beautiful friendship that would change the course of my visit. Diego would check in on me for the remainder of my stay in Buenos Aires, host me at his humble abode for a traditional asada and show me around the city. These stops included beautiful murals paying tribute to the stars of the recent World Cup, multiple shrines for Diego Armando Maradona and many other spots that I would have otherwise not experienced.
August 2, 2023 | Estudiantes de la Plata vs Goias
The next day I caught a taxi to the province of La Plata in search of a ticket to the Estudiantes vs Goias Copa Sudamericana match. Upon arriving at Estadio Jorge Luis Hirschi I was able to locate the ticketing kiosk and convince the workers to sell me a ticket. Visiting fans have special procedures, but by explaining to the lady that I was a “gringo from Estados Unidos”, she chuckled and sold me a ticket in the supporters’ section. Upon entering the stadium, I immediately realized that seat assignments are irrelevant and found a good view standing on the staircase next to the other locals. This was a very enjoyable match with the home team securing a 3-0 victory.
August 3, 2023 | San Lorenzo vs Sao Paulo
The next day’s match featured San Lorenzo vs Sao Paulo in another Copa Sudamericana tie, at Estadio Pedro Bidegain. Thanks to the help from the sommelier I met while at the World Cup in Doha, Qatar, I was connected with a local San Lorenzo supporter that would host me for this match. Aside from watching quality football in a traditional stadium, the most memorable moments came after the match ended. The host escorted me onto the pitch and introduced me to a couple of star players from San Lorenzo, Nahuel Barrios and Iván Leguizamón. The humility of all of the players and the hospitality from the San Lorenzo supporters left a lasting impression.
August 8, 2023 | Internacional vs River Plate
Taking the Buquebus boat from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, Uruguay, and then catching a flight to Porto Alegre, Brazil, I arrived just in time to put my bags down and head to Estadio Beira Mar for the second leg of this Copa Libertadores round of 16 tie. This was my second year in a row visiting this beautiful city in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande de Sul - so my buddy Camargo picked me up from the airport and secured a match ticket - vamos Colorados! The match was incredible! The Argentinians were smaller, quicker, extremely organized defensively and dangerous on set pieces and counter attacks, a credit to coach Martin DeMichelis. Meanwhile the Brazilians dribbled, combined and danced to improvised samba beats - joga bonito was on display! River Plate scored in injury time, tying the aggregate score, and sending the match straight to penalties. The penalty shootout included: 10 pks for each team, a River Plate penalty conversion being overturned by VAR (double touch as the players slipped while making contact with the ball), a change of goals since the pk spot was unplayable, and finally the Internacional gk (Sergio Rochet) converting the game winning penalty! Internacional advances to the quarterfinals!
August 13, 2023 | Gremio vs Fluminense
2 local Gremistas, Rafael and Felipe, were amazing hosts for this incredible match at Arena do Gremio. I met Rafael by the promenade and during the taxi ride to the stadium he explained to me that his father was a player and former coach of Gremio. The photos of the museum in his house were quite impressive! Luis Suarez was an ever present threat for Gremio. As a center forward, his hold up play and ability to consistently provide penetrating passes was very impressive. His perfectly weighted and incisive pass setup Bitello for a beautiful goal. Fluminense is coached by Fernando Diniz, who is doing double duty also coaching the Selecao (Brazilian national team). The combination play and ability to break the press and intricately work the ball up the field with short to medium range passes was truly amazing! Marcelo starred for Fluminense and it was not clear what position he was playing since he was literally all over the field. Johan Cruyff would have been proud of the clockwork orangesque interchanging of positions. Even Pep Guardiola would have been in awe of the Fluminense style of play. Gremio would win the game 2-1, which made the afterparty even more enjoyable - live samba at a local bar!
August 16, 2023 | Montevideo, Uruguay | Estadio Centenario
After a week in Porto Alegre, I caught a flight back to Montevideo, Uruguay, with a couple of days to explore this beautiful city. The tour of Estadio Centenario was very emotional. Uruguay hosted the first ever FIFA men’s World Cup in 1930, and the final took place in this venue. Walking into the empty stadium and appreciating the history was breathtaking. El Centenario is one of the most important stadiums in the sports development of South America and international football. I imagined it was 1930 and I was in attendance to watch Uruguay defeat Argentina and claim the first ever World Cup trophy. I did not want to leave the empty stadium, and made a promise to myself to stay true to football - to not let the many distractions that exist in the modern times, as youth coach and international fan, deter me from the pure passion of the beautiful game that unites the world. I dream of returning to watch a match at this venue, it will happen…
August 18, 2023 | Boca Juniors vs Platense
The Buquebus brought me back to Buenos Aires for the final leg of my trip. What would a visit to Buenos Aires be without attending a Boca Juniors match at La Bombonera?! Walking 15 minutes from my apartment in San Telmo, I arrived a couple hours early to enjoy the pre match festivities. The streets leading up to the stadium were covered in blue and gold, the grills were sizzling and the chants were in the air! A giant mural of Maradona leading the azul y oro while puffing a cigar covered the building, while the supporters filled the air with their own smoke. After befriending a grill master and enjoying a healthy portion of carne and fernet, the time had arrived to enter the stadium. With the help of an escort I found the north entrance, and after passing through 5 security checkpoints I soon realized this was going to be a chaotic situation. Once again, seat assignments are irrelevant. In the top terrace of the North end of La Bombonera I frequently changed locations to get a half view of the field. Experiencing the environment in the supporters’ section was priceless and I soon realized that many fans do not come to watch the game, but to participate in the camaraderie and fellowship with their brothers and sisters. Although I struggled to view the match, I arrived early enough to watch the warm ups, and was soon very impressed by Boca Juniors’ coach Jorge Almiron. You can tell alot about the team by their warm up, and my senses immediately told me that Boca was going to play an attractive style of football. The improvised finishing patterns involving all attacking players directly translated to their match play. Edison Cavani finished a beautiful header which culminated from intricate build up play. Cristian Medina scored a left footed golazo in injury time to secure a 3-1 victory for the home team.
August 20, 2023 | Argentinos Juniors vs River Plate
Diego Armando Maradona was a product of the Argentinos Juniors academy and fitting enough, the stadium is named after him. Upon arriving in the La Paternal neighborhood I soon realized that this was not a stadium, but a temple of football, a hallowed ground where fans pay their respect to the club’s contribution to Argentinian football. My friend Diego, who I met outside of Estadio Mas Monumental on my first night in Buenos Aires, joined me for this match. Visiting fans are not allowed at league matches in Argentina, so Diego had to blend in with the local supporters for the evening. We were seated in the front row of the second tier, at midfield, a beautiful view for this juicy encounter! The pregame fireworks were quite the spectacle, and by the time the game had started there were still remnants of the fireworks smoking on the field! Directly next to me was a father with his son and daughter. This boy was no more than 11 years old and his commentary was hilarious - profanity towards the River Plate players, words of panic when Argentinos were threatened defensively, and of course full passion with the local chants. The match provided plenty of excitement, with the home team securing a 3-2 victory.