History has it that in March 1904, a large statue of Jesus Christ was erected in the Uspallata Pass on what is now the Pan American Highway. Situated high in the Andes, it stands on the border between Argentina and Chile and was designed to commemorate a series of peace treaties which the nations had signed.
The statue was built using molten cannons and adorned with a Spanish inscription declaring: “Sooner shall these mountains crumble into dust than Argentines and Chileans break the peace sworn at the feet of Christ the Redeemer.” It became known as “The Christ of the Andes”. Ironically, shortly after the statue’s erection, the people of Chile began to grumble that the Christ of the Andes had its back turned to Chile.
What began as a small grumble turned into a full-scale protest, and more and more Chileans expressed their indignation at the slight. Then a journalist stepped in, writing a column that quickly brought the boiling tempers to a mere simmer, and then totally cooled things off. The statue, he wrote, was perfectly positioned, because, after all, “the people of Argentina need more watching over than the Chileans!”
In fact, it is remembered as his saying, “Even God would not dare turn his back on an Argentinian.” Right now I am hoping that a miracle happens and the Almighty turns his back on the Argentinians for at least ninety minutes.
I am writing this column just before the start of the Argentina versus the Netherlands semi-final match in this year’s football World Cup. Already the other Christ the Redeemer statue, and the most famous of all, has become entangled in the Brazilian defeat to Germany. This magnificent work of art was considered the largest Art Deco statue in the world from 1931 until 2010 when it was topped by the Christ the King statue in Poland. Brazil, too, towered above the world of football and was a firm favourite to win, especially considering that it had not been beaten on home soil for umpteen years. But both Brazil and the statue were topped and stopped again this week, this time by the Germans. According to Britain’s Daily Mirror, “Christ the Redeemer, the iconic statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, is normally seen as an image of hope but the famous landmark was quickly photo-shopped at the expense of the defeated host nation, following their semi-final humiliation.” Some of the images included Angela Merkel on the pedestal towering above Rio de Janiero and another of Christ with his right hand covering his eyes.
With 35.6 million tweets, the game eclipsed Superbowl 48’s previous record of 24.9 million tweets, and also set a new tweet-rate record, with a peak of 580,166 tweets per minute when Sami Khedira scored Germany’s fifth goal. One of the Germans tweeted, “How tweet it is” and it was indeed for them. What was interesting for me is how many people completely disowned Brazil and claimed to be German fans after the match.
Since the first time I ever saw a World Cup match on television in the 1960s, my choice of team was made for me. We had all seen, several times in the village cinema, the landmark movie GOAL on Brazilian footballer Pele and had admired and swooned over the Brazilian “brand” of football adopted in one of the Trinidad colleges “St Benedict’s”. We loved the artistry, the beauty, the skills and the panache of the Samba style.
Everyone else supported Brazil but not me. Stubbornness, my inability to go-with-the-flow and to buck it, my love of a bet, and my passion for system instead of mere style, led me to Holland. But even more, history made me do it—specifically the exploits of William of Orange and what his people had made of a mudland.
I was and still am a history freak, a romantic, swashbuckling, renaissance holdover and I figured if they could grow tulips in Holland, and plug dykes with their little fingers (although the word had a different meaning in those days) they could win a world cup.
I cannot ever count the number of bottles of beer, rum and Scotch I ended up paying for every four years, but when you realise that during the entire period the Dutch only won one European trophy and no World Cup, you and everyone but Brazilian supporters will feel sorry for me while pitying my misplaced optimism.
This year is different and I am not waiting for the match to end and have to write another and totally different column. I am fed up of hearing jokes like, “Why is the Dutch football team like an old bra?” No cups and little support. “What is the difference between Bill Clinton and Dutch Captain, Robin Van Persie?” Clinton can score. “They say that pessimists see the cup as half empty, and optimists as half full. The Netherlands have never ever seen the cup!” Louis Van Gaal was wheeling his shopping trolley across the supermarket car park when he noticed an old lady struggling with her shopping. He stopped and asked, “Can you manage dear?” to which the old lady replied, “No way! You got yourself into this mess, don’t ask me to sort it out!”
Whatever happens later to the Dutch, at least I have not made any bets, not even with the former night-club bouncer, Pope Francis. I figure he has an inside track. I understand that Van Gaal is not as sharp as he should be and in fact about an hour ago he was seen bringing pencils and sketchbooks into the dressing room before the World Cup game. He was hoping his Dutch team will draw the match. Unfortunately, this has to be played to a finish or until the Orange is sucked dry, whichever comes first.
At least it would not be as bad as what happened to the Brazilian coach who caught two fans climbing over the stadium wall yesterday and was angry with them. He grabbed them and said: “Get back in there and watch the game until it finishes!”