The biggest sporting extravaganza in the world is almost upon us and football fans all over the world are waiting for it to commence with bated breath. And India is no different.
With the excitement reaching fever pitch, Followyoursport.com had the wonderful opportunity spoke to the founders and the moderators of the Argentina Football Fan Group of India on what it’s like to support the Albiceleste.
1. Tell us a little bit about your group. When was the Argentina Football Fans group formed? What was the idea behind the creation of this group? Who were the founding members?
Argentina Football Fans is a group for fans of Argentina football from all over the world with more than 50K members. Although the majority of the group members are from India, it has participation from several countries around the world such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, UK, US, Argentina, Vietnam, Nepal etc. There are only two criterias for joining the group-
- Members must have passion for the Argentina football team
- Members must speak in English
The group was formed on 20th November, 2010.
The group had its’ older version in the social site Orkut. As Orkut was getting unpopular among people as Facebook started to have a grip on the market of social media, we decided to open the Facebook version and continue our work in FB. The idea of shifting to Facebook was given by Vishnu Narayan and the idea was implemented by Pranay Samanta. Vishnu, Arijit, Supriyo, Sandeep, Rajesh, Pranay were admins from the initial days as they had been working together pretty long from the Orkut days. Few more very passionate guys, Suman, Nishaan, Siddharth (Sid), Debraj, Kiran, Anirban, Avisekh and Midhun joined the group and gradually we all became friends. Now I will call this group as ‘Argentine Family Group’. Winning or losing doesn’t matter we are always together, we are behind Argentina and Argentine players.
The objective of forming this group is to discuss on Argentine football, keep everyone aware of all latest updates on Argentine players and coaches, their performances for their respective clubs, emerging talents, formations and strategy in which Argentine national team should play, club transfers of our players etc.
2. How do you rate Argentina’s chances at the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia?
Sid: It is a perfect case of imbalance. Argentina has all the talent in the world when it comes to attack but defence and midfield don’t live up to the strength and big names of attack, given that Sampaoli took under turbulent circumstances and with very few games to prepare. It will be difficult to impose his ideas on such short notice. Honestly speaking I would rate 6/10 in terms of chances.
Pranay: We are die hard Argentina fans, we would always want our beloved team Argentina to win the World Cup. But if we think logically and the other teams the road for Argentina is tough. Spain during Quarter Final stage, Germany in Semi Final, Brazil/France in final are all huge matches. If we see all the teams in the WC, Brazil, Germany, Spain and France are the toughest teams, so getting better of them would be a mammoth job. But one or more upsets in the group leagues would change the scenario completely. Even tough if things turned out as predicted, we are ready to fight to our hearts out and give opponents a tough fight. With the best player of the galaxy in our team in the name of Messi we can beat any team in any day, even the opponents know it. Also, pundits are this time around aren’t giving Argentina much chances which are also on the biggest hopes.
Arijit: To be honest Spain, Germany, Brazil, France are the favourites to win it as they boast of a very strong squad who have already proved themselves well in the World cup Qualifiers.
We have a lot of weaknesses, especially in defense and the injury to Romero added to a couple of controversial exclusions (Garay, Icardi) haven’t boosted the confidence of the fans. Having said that, nobody expected Italy to win in 2006, or Brazil in 2002, or France in 1998. But they all did. So why can’t it be us this time? So quoting Joan Laporta “With Messi, everything is possible”. If he has 7 GOOD games then expect the unexpected.
Suman: Realistically speaking we are not the favourites to win the World Cup. Based on the recent performances Brazil, Germany, Spain, France all are ahead of us plus teams like Belgium, Portugal, England, Croatia, Uruguay are capable of beating any team on their day. Also, we have a tricky group and very tough matches ahead even at later stages also. So, we don’t have any breathing space and we must play the best football right from the beginning. One bad day, we are out. But one can never write-off Argentina. Boasted with star-studded attack headed by one of the very best to play this game, Lionel Messi, Argentina always have a chance.
Players like Messi, Dybala, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero can win a match for you in a moment of brilliance. However, weakness remains in midfield and defense and if Sampoli can find a right balance between attack and defense, then there is always a chance for Argentina. But here I want to echo what Maradona said “Argentina has the opportunity to win but I don’t choose [Argentina] as a favourite because the favourite one never wins.”
3. Take us through your emotions as Argentina limped through their qualification campaign only to be saved by a Lionel Messi masterclass in their final match.
Sid: Since I live in Australia match was around 9 am and I had a University class. I skipped my class and went to the library and plugged in my headphones. It was not the start I expected. Ecuador scored in the very first minute. I gave up then and there because Quito and altitude always makes it difficult even to draw, let alone win. Since Argentina has the World’s Greatest, the day was saved. I couldn’t celebrate much as I was in the library.
Pranay: First of all we need to bow to the man, Lionel Messi. What a display it was against Ecuador, an opponent who are always tough to beat at their home ground (we were defeated by them in the reverse fixture)and that too after trailing by an early goal. I remember when I turned on the TV it was already 1-0 in favour of Ecuador, but the God (of course Messi) has something else on his mind. It was a very tough qualification with Brazil leapfrogged all and Bolivia, Venezuela were out, other 7 teams were fighting for the 3 direct spots and a playoff spot. I remember I was so tensed on the night almost sleepless before the last match, and the taunts of Messi haters and supporter of other teams already started few days back with a chance of WC without Argentina and Messi. Thanks to Messi, we were all smiling at the end of the qualification and we started to dream of winning the WC again. After we qualified the group was a magnificent place to be in.
Arijit: Well I actually didn’t watch the game. The thing is, I am quite a superstitious guy and it gets to me even more while supporting Argentina. I watched all of the 3 WCQ under Sampaoli, i.e Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru. And in all the games inspite of being the better side, we just couldn’t win. We sat 6th in the table and had to beat Equador in the mountains to qualify. Given our hopelessly poor record in Lima, I said to myself we are done. I changed a few settings in my bedroom (idols), shaved my beard and then tried my best to sleep.
The match was expected to end by 2.30 AM UK time. In my dreams, I saw we failed, and woke up at 3.30 AM. With my hands still shaking in fear, I just opened my cell phone, I was 99.99% sure that we are out. I saw I had plenty of whatsapp messages and 1 FB messenger ping. I opened that ping, which was from one of my friends cum colleague Arup (also a member of AFF), saying,“ Russia here we come”. It was as if a sword which was hanging over my head has suddenly been removed allowing me again to lift my head and breathe freely. In my entire life, I have never felt such relief, as I still don’t know how I would have reacted had we failed in qualification. And it was all possible because Messi did the unthinkable on that day. I can never thank GOD enough for that gift.
Suman: It was a difficult qualification campaign for Argentina. Argentina started the campaign without Lionel Messi and suffered 0 – 2 loss against Ecuador. After that we dropped points against Paraguay, Brazil but then won 4 back to back matches to bring back our qualification campaign on track. Since then it was a roller coaster ride for Argentina. Still I was never worried as I knew that 27 to 28 points should be enough for qualification (as per the trend) and that should not be difficult for Argentina. But after losing against Bolivia at La Paz and then 3 back to back draws against Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru at home, I was nervous on the last match day.
Ecuador is very tough to beat at Estadio Atahualpa, which is at very high altitude. We struggled to beat them away from home even under Sabella 4 years back when we were playing really good football and this time we were really short of confidence. Still I had the belief that we will bounce back against Ecuador. Out of excitement, I was unable to sleep the entire night. But after an early Ecuador goal for the first time, I felt we may not qualify for World Cup and started to think how I will be able to recover from that. That time I was looking at 2 persons to save us, one is GOD and the other one – Lionel Messi. By God’s grace that magical man played one of his best game in albiceleste shirt to seal our ticket for Russia. That was a wonderful moment, a great night. That was Messi’s night. I was literally thinking I saw Maradona in 1990 and now Lionel Messi. No one in between these 28 years.
4. What do you think of Jorge Sampaoli’s 23-man squad selection for the World Cup? What is your ideal starting XI?
As Lanzini is injured now and Enzo Perez is being drifted into the starting lineup for everyone has changed.
Sid: Like I answered from question 2. Its clear case of imbalance. Many were disappointed because of Icardi exclusion. But Sampaoli made choices with names who he thinks can connect better with Messi. Since he’s the most important player in the squad.
My ideal 11 would be – Armani; Ansaldi, Otamendi, Fazio, Tagliafico; Mascherano, Lo Celso; Messi, Meza, Di maria; Aguero.
Pranay: The selection is near perfect in my opinion as no selection can be perfect. There are disappointments among fans with Icardi not being picked, but I feel we have a strong team with a great mixture of youth and experience. It is not possible that we pick up all the stars for their respective club teams as for a World Cup we need a group of 23 team men, not 23 superstars. This is one of the best Argentina World Cup squads in a very long time in my opinion, even better than the 2014 world cup which is one of my favourite Argentina team and for a very long time with the exception of Sabella.
Argentina have finally hired a top quality coach in Sampaoli who has the coaching ability to guide this current Argentina national team on their way to a successful 2018 World Cup campaign. This quote from Messi is also telling – “We have good players and we are stronger to fight as an equal with anyone” – Messi has also started to speak like a captain and a true leader. Though the world sees Messi would be the player to make difference. I know he would do what he supposed to do, but in my opinion Pavon, Meza and Lo Celso would be the players to make the differences for us.
My ideal starting XI should be-
Ansaldi- Fazio- Otamendi- Tagliafico
Pavon – Lo Celso – Dimaria
Messi – Aguero
Arijit: There are certain notable absentees which irks me a bit.
Icardi was the SerieA top scorer and he just completed his best season so far. Not selecting him for Higuain, who hasn’t had a good season and looked sluggish against Spain, is strange.
In the midfield, Sampaoli has selected far too many wide players, eg Dimaria, Pavon, Meza, Salvio, Lanzini (now injured) and Acuna. But at CDM we have just 2 options, i.e Mascherano and Biglia. Out of the two, the former can’t play a full 90mins while the latter is coming off 2 recurring injuries. So I would have fancied another CDM- eg Ascacibar, or Battaglia or Parades and sacrificed one of the wide players, preferably Salvio.
Lastly in defence, Garay was not selected and I will never know why. Pezzella was also coming back after a good season in Florence. If not Garay, Pezzella should have got the nod ahead of Rojo who doesn’t seem to have regained his old form following his lengthy injury lay off.
All said and done I would like to believe that Sampaoli has taken the best decisions and he sees things which we fans can’t see. Now based on the 23 man we have I feel the below would be my ideal starting XI:
Mercado- Otamendi- Fazio-Tagliafico
— Lo Celso – ———–Banega—–
Messi ——- Aguero——-Di Maria
But again, I believe that team can change based on the opponents so that we can exploit their weakness and neutralize their strengths.
Suman: Looking at the team I can say it’s a good mixture of old and young players, but 10 out of 23 players played less than 10 matches for us which worries me a bit because in a World Cup you need experience. Overall, it’s a good team. Still somehow, I can see our attack is too heavy and couple of defensive players are sacrificed to increase the strength in the attacking line. Also, looks like Sampoli going to take attacking approach in the World Cup and so gave preference to the versatility of the players, who are capable of playing in different positions. Whether this is the correct decision, that time will tell.
Maybe a couple of changes would have made this team better defensively.
– In defense: It’s surprising that Sampaoli selected only 2 Centre-backs. So, if one of Otamendi or Fazio is injured or suspended, means Rojo going to take his place, which is a bit worrying because of his lack of playing time this season. Although Mercado can play as Centre back but is far from World class. I feel the inclusion of Pezzella would have made this defense slightly better.
– In defensive midfield: Bigila recovering from injury and looks like Mascherano past his best, so any one of Battaglia, Pizarro or Enzo Perez should have been there in the team. Hope Bigila will recover completely as he is our best probable man to cover the defense.
Overall the exclusion of Icardi raised eyebrows as many consider him as the best striker in our team. Happy to see Dybala in the team and hopefully Sampaoli will work on the Messi-Dybala partnership and most importantly hope Aguero will be 100% fit before World Cup. It’s really great to have some quality young players like Lo Celso, Taglifico, Meza, Pavan, Acuna who could play a very important role in Argentina’s world cup campaign.
Regarding formation, Sampoli already gave a hint that he will use 2-3-3-2 formation while attack. So looks like Sampoli going to give importance to wing-play and potential formations he is going to use is 4-2-3-1 , so probable starting XI could be:
–Dimaria-———– Messi ——-—Pavon–
—––— Lo Celso–——-Bigila——-———
Taglifico–– Fazio –– Otamendi—–Salvio
However same formation will take 2-3-3-2 formation while attack means team will look like,
———-———-Aguero——- Messi ————-
———–Fazio –——— Otamendi———-
5. Who are your Top 3 Argentina players of all time?
Sid: Messi, Maradona and Zanetti.
Pranay: It is a really tough question. I have not seen Maradona playing live. I always like defenders more than the attackers as defenders aren’t credited much and the scorers get the applause always. So they remain unsung heroes in my opinion. My top 3 Argentine players of all time would be except Messi, Maradona (it is a common choice for all) – Javier Mascherano, Roberto Ayala and Javier Zanetti.
Arijit: It’s a story of 3 Ms. Mario (Kempes), Maradona, Messi
Mario Kempes – Our best player in WC glory of 1978. Golden boot winner too
Maradona- Gave us that 2nd star in our shirt. Almost singlehandedly as some might say.
Messi- Brought us back to WC final for the 1st time in 24years, and saved our blushes this time by qualifying and hopefully will give us the 3rd star in our shirt.
Suman: That’s a tough question to be honest as Argentina has never stopped producing talents. However, to make my life easier I will choose from the players I have seen live (from World Cup 1990) and, I will not keep Maradona and Messi in the list as these 2 fellows will occupy top 2 places.
Now for me the top 3 Argentine players would be,
Gabriel Batistuta – For me Batistuta is the definition of a number # 9. Power, pace, heading, shooting and accuracy, Bati was a complete package.
Next my man, the most caps holder Javier Mascherano. El Jefecito may not be the most skillful player around but he is versatile, tactically intelligent, with an excellent ability to read the game and very good tackler. He is a player who can even die for your team, a true warrior of Argentine football.
For 3rd place it’s a tie between Juan Roman Riquelme, an elegant midfielder who resembles the great Zidane, an idol of great midfielders like Xavi, Iniesta and Javier Zanetti, the player with the most appearances in the history of La Albiceleste, alongside Mascherano. A great footballer, a leader and a true symbol of Argentina football.
6. Since when did you all start supporting Argentina and how? What has been your most memorable moment as an Argentina fan?
Sid: It was 1995. I was watching Doordarshan and there was some sports program going on. They happened to show the greatest ever goal scored in the World Cup. The scintillating run made by Maradona against England after beating a handful of defenders to score THAT marvelous goal really captured my imagination. And he was Argentine and hence from that point on Argentina was my team.
With respect to special memories, it will account to recent events in Argentina football, seeing your favorite team in World Cup final is always very special. I was in tears even before the match began as I waited so long to see them in WC final, emotions were naturally strong. I was in tears because of pre match show sony six showed 3 min clip of young boy wearing Albiceleste jersey playing in streets and finally ending up in Maracana stadium. It was like destiny was upon like this moment is ours, more particularly Leo’s moment. Other than this Simeone getting Beckham sent off which I absolutely loved. These are fond memories I hold upto now.
Pranay: I started supporting Argentina by birth. I was born and brought up a town named Serampore which is in outskirts of Kolkata. The locality where I brought up has 99% supporters of Argentina. So the love and affection towards Argentina is automatically generated from when I started to understand the feelings of the game. 1998 is the first world cup which has some kind of memory in my brain, I was 9 years old then. We didn’t have cable line or a color TV in my home, but I remember DD1 was broadcasting the matches may be, and I saw Argentina defeating England in the Round of 16 at midnight. Then we lost to Holland to a Bergkamp goal and Brazil fans started to dance in the local club. The scene is still clear in my mind and made me a huge fan of Argentina afterwards.
The most memorable moment would be 2 moments for me. First the match against Serbia and Montenegro in WC 2006 by 6-0, what a match it was, a true Argentine performance with beautiful and skillful football. The other one would be against the Netherlands in Semi WC 2014 – the tackle from Mascherano, the heroics of Romero and the emotions shown by Messi.
Arijit: It all began with Italia 90. I was only 5 then. I grew up in a joint family house in central Calcutta ( Kolkata nowadays). My father, an ardent supporter of Maradona’s Argentina brought home a new colour TV just to watch the World Cup then. The name Maradona started to ring in my ears since then. As the tournament progressed, I started to catch a few more names like Cannigia, Goycochea, etc. I started collecting world cup cards (available with chewing gum) and made quite a collection then. Although I don’t have many recollections of any of the matches but I very well remembered the image of a shirtless Maradona crying in the field after the final loss. I was upset specially seeing that image but my mother consoled me saying “Last WC Argentina were champions and nobody was able to beat them”. From then on, I started dreaming to see the day Argentina become champions again.
On the memorable moments, there are many contenders. Like Zanetti’s goal against England in 98, Cambiasso’s goal against Serbia in 2006, Maxi’s wonder goal against Mexico in the same WC, DiMaria’s winner against Nigeria to give us the Olympic gold.
But the moment which beats all of these is the one when Romero saved Sneijder’s spot kick in the 2014 semi-final shootout victory. It was not a pretty match, very tactical but very much on the edge. Mascherano saved us big time with an unbelievable tackle on Robben to force the game to extra time. But in shootout we had a bad record as we had lost Copa 11 and WC 06 previously. So I was extremely nervous and was quite unsure of Romero to be able to save the Dutch spot-kicks given that they had just beaten Costa Rica in QF. Once again due to superstitious reasons, I was not watching the Dutch penalties and I couldn’t believe when commentators said Romero saves Ron Vlaar’s penalty.
After that Messi, Garay both converted while Robben converted his. So it was 2-1 to us when Sneijder stepped up. But when Romero saved that one, I knew that we have the game in our bag now, as Kun generally takes well. As I had expected we finished them off with one kick remaining and for the 1st time, I was able to watch Argentina play in a WC final LIVE and that too in the land of archrival Brazil. Ofcourse my happiness was short lived but no one can take away those emotions I went through that night.
Suman: That’s a long story. I have started watching football from World Cup 1990. As I am from the North-eastern part of India we had the access of BTV (Bangladesh TV) that time. Prior to the World Cup 1990, BTV used to telecast the 1986 World Cup matches at night, mostly Argentina matches as they were defending Champions. That time me and my uncle used to watch those matches and while watching the 1986 World Cup matches he used to tell me the story of 1986 World Cup and the man, the ‘God of football’ Maradona. I immediately fell in love with that man and the colour he used to wear “white and sky blue.” I was a kid that time still I remember when the camera used to focus on that man, I was getting goosebumps all over my arms. In 1990 Final when Germany beat Argentina I was crying like anything with Maradona. That was one of the most disappointing night for me and it’s over 28 years I am still waiting for World Cup glory.
Over the years, I matured as a football fan, I never stopped following Argentina football and Argentina players.
I witnessed Messi first time in U20 World Cup 2005. World Cup was in the Netherlands and fortunately I was in Rotterdam during that time, so I felt that excitements. Although I didn’t get a chance to go to the ground but watched all the matches and witnessed the brilliance of Messi for the first time. Then celebrated U20 WC 2007, Banega was my man in that World Cup, then Aguero, Di Maria, Maxi Moralez all were brilliant, then enjoyed Olympic Gold medal victory in 2008.
But at senior level I missed our last Copa Victory in 1993 but witnessed Argentina went down against Brazil in Copa 2004, a star-studded Argentina side outclassed by Brazil in Copa 2007 Final despite we were favourite, then 3 big final losses in three consecutive years, World Cup 2014, Copa 2014 and Copa 2015 all were heart-breaking moments. But as an Argentine fan still cherish those moments when a brilliant Messi scored a hat trick to beat Brazil 4-3, beating the Netherlands in World Cup 2014 Semi-final, beating Germany 4-2 right after World Cup and last but not the least when Messi helped Argentina to beat Ecuador to qualify for World Cup.
But still waiting for the moment when Argentina will win a Senior Trophy and hope my wish will be full-filled on 15th July in Russia.
7. What do you think about Argentina fans and football in general in India? What steps do you think are necessary at the youth level for Indian football to progress?
Sid: Indians are a very passionate bunch. Keralites and Bengalis Argentina fans are brilliant. Football fans in India are growing exceptionally well. It’s about setting proper foundations in grass root level to improve the talent, AIFF needs to more, set up world cup class academies where children can come and be trained. I firmly believe football can improve quality and way of one’s life.
Pranay: The amount of Argentina fans are huge in India. The most of the fans come from Kolkata and Kerala previously, but now they are coming from every part of India. Being a cricket crazy nation, football has always remained second sport in India. Being born and brought up in West Bengal, I have seen people are passionate about Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are in love with the game throughout the year. The world famous Kolkata derby, arguably the biggest in Asia and one of the biggest in the world. The attendance of the derby can overreach 100,000 at times, a number that matches/surpasses the El Classico and Manchester Derby. The same enthusiasm is seen the southern part of India majorly Kerala and north-east India from where our favourite child BaichungBhutiabelong. But in the last few years Bangalore has seen lots of passionate football fans due to FC Bengaluru in I-league. Football tenacity is increasing day by day in India and we may see football at the same level of cricket in near future.
Money has to come in Indian football to make it progress. We have seen money inflowing increasing in the last few years but it has to increase more. The money needs to be used to improve the infrastructure and scouting. There are many talented boys in the rural villages which stay un-scouted. The scouting needs to improve. We may well see India as a top footballing nation in Asia, then obviously the world cup dream would be a reality if infrastructures are improved. We are seeing the performance from our national team to cheer for them duly led by Sunil Chhetri. Those who follow Indian football closely will tell you that our team improving day by day.
8. What do you think separates your Fan Club from the rest?
Sid: I don’t think there is any other group which is as active as our group when it comes to providing prompt updates. Some of the admins, including myself, take up group services as seriously as our jobs because Argentina football is our passion.
Pranay: First of all our group is one the largest national team fan clubs in FB. There are groups which are general football groups where supporters from any club in Europe may come and join. As club footballs are played throughout the year to keep the group active is a little bit of easier and people remains active throughout the year. But being a national team fan club it is difficult to keep the group alive always. But in our group, if anyone can see we remain active throughout the year with our admins try to post/update how our Argentine players are performing in their club level, what the latest transfer rumours are making news, how our coaches are doing for their club etc. The activity throughout the year even being a national team fan club is the unique thing in my opinion without discussing club specific discussion.
We are strictly against club level discussion as this may create unnecessary fights among our members as we have fans from every possible clubs of the world. The best and unique thing is that our members also follow the same, they are massively matured and understand our motto of being an Argentine fan. Every admin and members should be credited for this.
The other fact is that the independence we provide to our members, we give chances to members to create match threads which in other groups the admins take the responsibility mostly. The active members are always given the promotions to admin position in an unbiased way.
Being an admin and owner of the group, I am proud of the happiness and unity in ourselves even when we are trophyless for so many years.
9. How can an Argentina fan in India become a member of your Fan Club?
It is very easy, just join the group in the Facebook. Anyone who is interested in joining the best Argentina group in the Facebook, one can click here. We would also urge every passionate Argentine supporter who is reading this article please join with us and share the joy as well as the sorrow of supporting La Albiceleste.