Fifa World Cup 2018 fever sees Lionel Messi fanatic catch seven flights over 42 hours to watch his beloved Argentina
Marcelo Brusa’s journey to Russia takes in Santiago, Sao Paulo, Madrid and Berlin
Faced with US$3,000 return flights to Russia and inflation running at 30 per cent per month, Argentina fan Marcelo Brusa, 42, searched for other options to get to see his country in a fourth consecutive World Cup finals.
He was delighted when he found a flight from neighbouring Chile to Sao Paulo, then another to Madrid, Berlin and finally Russia.
At US$1500 return, it was half the price of the charters taking some of the 40,000 Argentina fans to Russia. Only 50 per cent or so of them have match tickets.
There was a slight problem for Brusa. He lives in Cordoba, Argentina’s second city, not Santiago, Chile. He thought travelling 400 miles to Santiago on the other side of the Andes wouldn’t be a problem, but then saw there were no flights. He booked two more flights, one east to Buenos Aires, then another back on himself to Santiago.
“It will take me seven flights and 42 hours to get to Russia,” explains the supporter of club side Talleres.
“I can’t wait. I’m not as optimistic as I was about Argentina’s prospects in Brazil four years ago. We were poor in qualification and there were disputes between coaches and the federation.
“We only qualified in the last game when Messi scored a hat-trick in Ecuador.”
Argentina had been ranked number one in the world when qualification began. Now, they’re fifth and were hammered 6-1 in a recent friendly by Spain.
“I have concerns about our defence and don’t even know which goalkeeper will start, but we have Lionel Messi and when you have Messi you have two aces,” Brusa claims.
“So I’m optimistic of success, but see our main rivals as Brazil, Germany, Belgium and France.”
Argentina fans were the biggest travelling support in Brazil. Young lads slept in bus stations and on beaches, wrapped in the blue and white flags of their country. They sang beautiful melodic songs – many which chided Brazil.
“Brazil. Tell me how it feels to have daddy in your house?” tens of thousands of them sang to the tune of Bad Moon Rising in Belo Horizonte, Rio, Porto Alegre or Sao Paulo on the way to the final. The tune has been copied by football fans around the world since.
And, despite the high costs and vast distances, South American countries will enjoy vast support in Russia.
In a league table of tickets sold so far, Russia is understandably top, followed by tickets in the US – where there are large expatriate communities from several nations from the Serbians in Chicago, Mexicans in California to Iranians in New York.
Brazil, despite the vast social problems in the country, are third, with 72,512 tickets sold. More tickets have been sold in Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Peru than England, which usually has a massive away support.
Relations between England and Russia could be better and fears of hooliganism were pronounced after the trouble between rival fans in Marseille two years ago.
That and the dreadful form of England in international tournaments – one win out of their last seven games in those – have softened demand.
There’s no such thing as soft demand for the Argentina games. Watching Messi in Moscow is such an attraction among wealthy Russians that tickets are going for US$1500 on the black market.
“Lots of my friends are travelling without tickets,” says Brusa, who will spend at least 18 days in Russia.
“They’ll be in the fan parks and fans will see each other right if they have spares. And anyone who has a ticket must sing for 90 minutes – no excuses.
“We have to earn our right for that space in the stadium, to support Argentina. You rest in the hotel, not the stadium. We know we are lucky to be going to Russia, but we also know that the whole of Argentina will be going onto flight mode for the whole competition – everything else will be switched off.”
Argentina’s fan culture is rich. Their songs are copied globally, the noise and passion at league games in their country is spectacular.
Brusa has packed his country’s flag, plus “seven or eight Argentina shirts from the 1978 one to the current one, plus the shirt of my club Talleres”. He’s already singing the songs and has planned for Argentina to reach the final – even though he doesn’t have all the necessary tickets.
“People are relaxed,” he says. “Everyone was worried about tickets in Brazil, especially for the final … but as soon as Brazil lost 7-1 in the other semi-final, there were tickets everywhere.”
He’s staying in hotels or using Air BnB, with costs averaging US$80 a night.
“Thousands of fans are helping each other in a group on Facebook,” he adds. “Those who didn’t pay in full when they booked have found that the cost has increased 30 per cent in the last month because of inflation.
“I know people who are spending their money for a whole year to go to Russia.
“I’m going with my friends Santiago and Ramiro. We always travel together and have been friends since we were 10.
“We’re going to go to Qatar in four years and take our children. Messi should still be playing. I’m just going to try and find a more direct way of getting there.”