First, there was silence. Then, thousands of throats erupting into a single scream – “GOALLLL!!!” – as a stream of people clad in blue and white shirts filled the streets. Marcos Rojo had just scored the goal that gave Argentina a hard-fought ticket to the next round of the World Cup and people were going wild with joy and pride. But this scene wasn’t happening in Buenos Aires, Corrientes or any other Argentine city. It was taking place more than 10,000 miles away, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
It’s a well-known fact that soccer transcends borders. And nowhere is that truer than in Bangladesh, where every four years, its citizens become de facto Argentines, wearing the color of the Albiceleste and following the team and its stars with the same –if not more– fervor as actual Argentines.
Rojo’s goal, for example, was too much for Selim Hossain, a 45-year-old Argentina fan who collapsed when celebrating the goal in the city of Rajshahi. According to the local daily Dhaka Tribune, the fan had a heart attack and died before he could be taken to the nearest hospital.
“Bangladeshis have always loved soccer,” said Quazi Zulquarnain, a sports reporter in Dhaka to the Argentine daily La Nación. “Since we don’t have a great national team to channel that [love], we celebrate Argentina.”
And what a celebration it is. Flags that cover whole storefronts, entire apartment buildings painted with the colors of the flag and countless portraits of Messi, Aguero, Di María and Higuain decorate cities across the country and even in the neighboring India and Nepal.
The devotion for the Argentine national team can be traced to a single date and place: June 22, 1986 at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. That day, Diego Maradona scored two goals (the infamous “Hand of God” and a masterpiece of dribbling that is considered the best goal in the history of the tournament) in a victory over England that embarrassed the inventors of the modern game and inscribed Maradona’s name in the pantheon of legends. For former British colonies like Bangladesh, it was a reminder of how a smaller country could bring a greater power to its knees. A love story was born.
“El Diego” is also loved because of his personality and antics: “His personal struggles, his victory over the British and his flawed personality attract us because they remind us of ourselves,” said Zulquarnain.
But like all love stories, there’s a third character vying for their affection: Brazil. The green and yellow of the Canharinha is also present in Dhaka. Although not as ubiquitous as the Argentinian colors, Brazil has a sizable support, which also means that the decades long rivalry between the two soccer powers is reedited in this part of the world: “Like every year, we’ve hung a 70 foot flag and there is always big competition in our area for who can make the largest flag,” said Anil Chakraborty, an Argentinian fan in an interview for CNN. “Brazil will try to make it, but I think they’re late.”
Such heartfelt displays of affection reached Argentine shores and moved some of their fans. One of them, Matías Dell’Anno Irigoyen, started a Change.org campaign to ask the Argentine Football Federation (AFA) to organize a friendly with Bangladesh, as a way to thank them for their support. Currently, the petition has more than 20,000 signatures, but the AFA hasn’t replied to it yet.
After the celebration for Argentina’s qualification, came the heartbreak: France ended Argentina’s run in the World Cup with a 4-3 victory. But despite the defeat, Bangladeshis haven’t lost their enthusiasm and love for Messi & co. In four years they’ll be back, supporting their adopted nation as if they had been born in Buenos Aires.