Argentina return to Maracana Stadium after latest World Cup title
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP):
Many Argentinians believe that the pursuit of their latest World Cup title started for real more than two years ago at Maracana Stadium.
That's where Angel di Maria and Lionel Messi helped to end the 28-year trophyless streak with a 1-0 win against Brazil in the Copa America final.
Today, some will return to the historic arena in a much more optimistic mood than for that game in 2021 against arch-rival Brazil.
About two hundred Argentina fans gathered yesterday evening outside Argentina's hotel in Rio de Janeiro ahead of their South American World Cup qualifying match against Brazil.
The visiting supporters, some taking vacations in the city, brought drums, Messi and Diego Maradona flags, and horns. Many of them sang out that "the favelas are still crying" since Brazil lost the Copa America to Argentina.
Several, like 27-year-old Ariel Garcia, wore old style jerseys with two instead of three stars representing Argentina's World Cup titles over the crest. A Brazil resident, he did not attend that Copa America final when it was played in a nearly empty stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions. The rare chance to watch Argentina live pushed him to quickly get one of the 69,000 tickets to be at the Maracana today.
"That Copa America final gave us the belief we could win the World Cup. If Argentina had lost that final to Brazil, only God knows whether Messi would still play in Qatar," Garcia said.
"The Maracana was once the place where we lost the 2014 World Cup to Germany, but that Copa America title made it the place where we won the latest World Cup."
Led by then-President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil became a last-minute host of the 2021 Copa America after co-hosts Colombia and Argentina gave up as the virus spread. Media reports suggested the tournament faced the risk of cancellation until a week before kick-off. Players of the unexpected host nation discussed with then-coach Tite about not playing. But they did, and lost the final to Argentina.
"There's a special spice, and we don't need to remember these old moments," Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said before their trip to Rio. "So much has happened since."
"We always have to think about the present," added the coach, who won his first professional title on the job in that final. "It doesn't need much for a player to be ready for this. It is a clasico, it is Brazil playing at their home."
Brazil have never lost a World Cup qualifying match at home.
Both Argentina and Brazil will play after defeats in the previous round of qualifying; the locals lost 2-1 at Colombia, and the World Cup champions were defeated at home 2-0 by Uruguay.
Argentina lead the 10-team South American qualifying group with 12 points through five matches. Uruguay are second with 10 points. Colombia have nine and Venezuela eight. Brazil will host the World Cup champions in fifth position, with seven points.