No matter where the waiter stands, he's in the wrong spot. He either hides behind a pillar, which irritates his boss. Or he's in the guests' way and they ask him to move. They're all here at the Café La Ópera to watch Argentina defeat the Netherlands on huge television screens.
But almost as quickly as the game begins, the Dutch are already dominating the game. Marta Tutak is the only person in the place still laughing -- and that only because she's arrived late and is clueless about the current state of play. "What's the score?" she asks, naively, before sitting down. "Nothing's happened yet," her neighbor says, before the dark-haired man introduces himself by his nickname, "El Negro."
After all, he and Marta will be good friends for the next 90 minutes. Both work just a few houses down from La Ópera, a typical corner café in the heart of Buenos Aires. The café is covered with wood panelling and the small square tables can be pushed apart or drawn together depending on the size of the crowd. The waiters are clad in shirts and bow-ties. At most times, there is only a single television in the café, and the Argentinian men here are masters at positioning their women with their backs to the TV set. She doesn't realize what's happening until she's already seated and her counterpart is staring past her, blissfully unaware of anything but the match playing on the screen in front of him.
But today their ploy doesn't seem to be working -- the women also have their eyes firmly glued to the TV. It's 4 p.m. in Buenos Aires. Most people in the café are drinking coffee, but others order beer. They've come here directly after work, still wearing their suits. There's even a Jew wearing a skullcap in the front row. Marta is a psychologist; Ricardo Gonzales, "El Negro," is a legal advisor. At the next table there are five accountants who were given the afternoon off because of the game.
Playing with Pelé
"I know a lot about football, I used to play professionally," El Negro says. "I played in Uruguay and Brazil. After that, I opened a football school with Lalo, Maradona's brother."
"I guess I'm sitting next to the right person then," Marta says, without taking her eyes off the screen. El Negro rattles off a list of famous players he's trained with. There was Pelé, when El Negro was 13. "He plays the ball with his head without closing his eyes," he recalls. With Maradona, who came to the opening day of El Negro's football school. When asked which superstar he thought was better on the pitch, he acts as if it would be heresy to give an answer. "That's like asking who is nicer: Buddha or Gandhi," he says. "Both are unbelievable."
"I can't see anything but orange," Marta complains, as she looks up at the sea of Dutch jerseys on the TV screen. "That's because they move in blocks. Our team has more individualists," explains El Negro. "If this works out, we'll go celebrate at the Obelisk later." The Obelisk on the eight-lane Avenue of the Ninth of July is Buenos Aires's most famous landmark. After each game, the fans of the winning team congregate here to celebrate.
Argentinian striker Carlos Tevez shoots, his twisted shot barely misses the goal. The fans at La Ópera jump up, throw their hands in the air and shout, "Oooooh!"
"The Dutch play better as a team," El Negro says, offering a bit of instant analysis. Then the half-time whistle blows and the players return to their locker rooms goalless.
During the break, Marta and El Negro drink a Cortado, an espresso with frothed milk on top. They talk about the integrating effect that football has on problem kids. During the second half, the mood is subdued. "The teams are equally strong. If one of them scored now, it would be unfair," Marta says.
"That would be a shooting star"
Would an Argentinian victory make him proud? "That would be like a shooting star: brief happiness," he says. "But I cannot be proud of Argentina as long as there are children dying from hunger and 5 million people are out of work," he says. Marta agrees, "Newspapers say that Argentina has shown record growth since the end of the crisis: But who cares if the people cannot feel the effects?" She points to some street children who try to sneak a peak through the window at the television.
Then the final whistle blows. The fans are disappointed. "0-0," says El Negro. "I'll go back to work." Marta has also reconsidered and is going home rather than to the Obelisk. But despite the fact that the match has ended without a single goal, more than 1,500 fans still make their way to the Obelisk. They wave Argentinian flags, blow horns and set off fireworks -- all while chanting: "Olé, olé, olé. We'll be back, we'll be back to win, just like '86." Modesty is not an Argentinian trait.