Before the shouts and the cheering, the crowd at Huntington’s Cafe Buenos Aires was quiet for a brief moment Saturday morning.
Owner Hugo Garcia and his family were preparing for an early opening for Argentina’s match against France in the World Cup, but stopped suddenly to stand at attention for the Argentine national anthem. It was being played nearly 5,000 miles away in Kazan, Russia, but it made no difference for the Garcias and their fellow Argentina supporters in attendance, who were almost all clad in the national soccer team’s signature sky blue and white jerseys.
This set the tone for a passion-filled two hours, as the reverence soon gave way to a wider range of emotions. Anxiety and disappointment were superseded by elation, but the joy would not last as the Argentines squandered a second-half lead in a 4-3 defeat by France which eliminated them from the tournament.
“This team brings enjoyment to all Argentinians, even if the result wasn’t for us today,” said Francisco Monsalve, 66, of Huntington. Despite the loss, the atmosphere was lively and festive at Cafe Buenos Aires, which has become a hub for Long Island-based Argentina fans during major tournaments.
“There’s something about Argentinian fans that makes you want to watch their matches with them,” said Daniel De La Cruz, 35, of Lynbrook. “Other matches, I can watch at home and it’s fine. With Argentinians, you can feel their energy.”
“It’s something that runs in your veins,” said Gabriel Garcia, 40, of Huntington, Hugo’s son. “It’s incredible to have everyone come together as one.” He said that his father came to the United States from Mendoza, Argentina, in 1982 and has owned Cafe Buenos Aires for the past 11 years.
“The last World Cup was so intense,” Garcia said of Argentina’s run to the final in 2014, when it lost to Germany. “The crowd for the games kept getting bigger until the final, when the restaurant was packed. You couldn’t even walk.”
On Saturday, France took the lead in the 13th minute before Argentina leveled the score in the 41st as the cafe erupted. It got even louder on the other side of halftime when Gabriel Mercado scored on an assist from superstar Lionel Messi three minutes into the second half.
As the period wore on, though, the French attack proved to be too much to handle as they scored three consecutive goals. Argentina pulled a goal back in stoppage time and sent a ball into the box on the final play of the game — which had the fans at the cafe holding their breaths — but it amounted to nothing as the final whistle blew. France advanced to the quarterfinals and ended Argentina’s bid for a third World Cup title. The country previously took home the trophy in 1978 and 1986.
As Monsalve explained, the team’s impact on his native country — then and now — goes beyond the results on the pitch.
“We have a lot of problems in our country, like the economy, which is not going great,” he said. “This team gives everyone a reason to come together.”