COLUMBUS -- Guillermo Barros Schelotto was only five years old, but he knew why his family, friends and the entire neighborhood as far as he could see were dancing in the streets.
Argentina had just won the 1978 World Cup, on its home soil no less, by a 3-1 count over the Netherlands and the emotions poured through the country like lava.
“I remember the celebration after Argentina played,” the Crew forward said. “The people were happy and celebrated all night.”
What was hard for Schelotto to understand at that age was the political implications that came along with victory.
A military junta had been in place for two years and the rogue government used the World Cup triumph as a chance to tell the world that its way of life was the best. Martial law had been imposed and the regime was cited for more than 30,000 disappearances from 1976 until its demise in 1983.
“I understood that Argentina played but, after that, other people [spoke] of the World Cup and what a big political moment it was for the military and the government,” Schelotto said. “At that moment, I was thinking just of soccer.”
Crew assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren was almost 11 when Argentina won its first World Cup in 1978 and found the moment to be bittersweet.
“It was really good because the government and military were in charge and they were killing people,” He said. “It was a sad moment for Argentina, so having some kind of joy for the month was great for the people living in the country. The people got some relief from the sport we loved. We were the best in the world. People were dancing, cheering and yelling [after the final match],” he said. “Fireworks were not allowed because the government thought it would be dangerous. It was a sad moment for Argentina history that that government lasted so long.”
Argentina did not repeat at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, but won a second title in Mexico 1986 with the aid of Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” goal a quarterfinal victory over England. Argentina later went on to defeat West Germany 3-2 in the final.
“That was nice and we [could] enjoy it more because there was freedom in the country,” Iribarren said. “It was really nice.”
That victory occurred 24 years ago and, since Italy 1990, Argentina has not made it to a World Cup semifinals round.
But Schelotto is optimistic that that will change this time around, as he believes that FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi can lead La Albiceleste to glory again.
“Messi needs to show it in the World Cup,” Schelotto said. “He showed in Barcelona the last few years that he is the best in the world, but on the national team he has not done very good. Maybe this is his moment.”
Iribarren is not so sure.
“So far, [Argentina] haven’t played as a team. It was too difficult for them to make it to the World Cup and I don’t think they are going to win it.”
Both see usual suspects Brazil and Spain as the contenders along with England, Germany, Italy and Portugal, but think Chile could surprise. Schelotto also likes Ivory Coast and Cameroon as teams to watch.
Holding the tournament in South Africa brings a sense of pride to the entire continent but the same warm, fuzzy feeling didn’t greet the announcement that the World Cup would return to South America for the first time since 1978 when Brazil hosts in four years.
“It’s good for soccer,” Schelotto said. “It’s good for Brazil, but for Argentina not so much because we are rivals with Brazil. We are talking soccer. We don’t hate the people from Brazil.”
Iribarren sees it as an opportunity for the ultimate dig at the Brazilians.
“Hopefully, we can win it there,” he said. “It would be nice to win in Brazil and show we are the best team in the world in their country.”