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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
Going wild for the Pumas
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

There are few, if any, cities anywhere in the world that live and breathe football with the intensity of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.

And there are few derby matches anywhere to match the rivalry, the profile and the importance of the city's River Plate against Boca Juniors clash, the so-called 'Super Classic'.

A Boca Juniors fan wears his Argentina rugby shirt
A Boca Juniors fan wears his Pumas shirt with pride

But last Sunday even this match had to bow down before the roar of the Pumas.

The River-Boca game was brought forward by more than an hour so that once it was over the nation could settle itself down and concentrate on the action from France, where Argentina were taking on Scotland in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.

The hubbub will be even greater for this weekend's semi-final. The Pumas have caught the imagination of the Argentine public.

Their campaign is taking the game well beyond its traditional strongholds, which tend to be either in rural areas or among the better off.

Argentina's rugby stars are now appearing on both front and back pages of the press, and Buenos Aires newspapers are even publishing beginner's guides to the game to help their readers follow the action in France.

For those who have devoted their lives to the cause of Argentine rugby, such as national team coach Marcelo Loffreda, these are hugely satisfying moments.

It is Argentina's fortunes on the football field, in the truly global game, that really have the power to speak to the nation and reflect its identity

And the game in the country will clearly benefit from the profile achieved by the current generation of Pumas.

But on another level the public's response to the Pumas says more about the power of victory than it does about the force of rugby.

Back in 1981, the River-Boca 'Super Classic' was rescheduled to avoid a clash with Carlos Reutemann's quest to win the world Formula One title.

Three years ago, Argentina came to a standstill to follow the campaign of Manu Ginobili and company all the way to Olympic basketball gold.

And the country produces some tennis stars who can draw a large television audience if they do well in a major championship.

Despite these moments, neither Formula One nor basketball nor tennis have ever remotely threatened to take the place of football as a central experience in the lives of the urban Argentine population - and the same will surely be true of rugby.

606: DEBATE

It is 17 years since Argentina's footballers last reached the final of the World Cup in Italy, and the long road to South Africa 2010 starts this Saturday with the first qualifier at home to Chile.

The Pumas' road to South Africa has been much shorter - four group games and a quarter-final. Their progress is being followed and celebrated at home.

But it is Argentina's fortunes on the football field, in the truly global game, that really have the power to speak to the nation and reflect its identity.

SEE ALSO
Argentina's new hero
05 Oct 07 |  Magazine
Argentina 'ready for Tri-Nations'
08 Oct 07 |  Rugby Union
Rugby union positions guide
05 Feb 07 |  Laws & Equipment
Pumas coach hails historic effort
07 Oct 07 |  Rugby Union
Argentina 19-13 Scotland
07 Oct 07 |  Rugby Union
Pumas play down Tri-Nations talk
02 Mar 07 |  Rugby Union
Pichot targets Six Nations place
18 Jun 06 |  Internationals
Minnows facing cull for 2011 Cup
27 Sep 07 |  Rugby Union
Last splash for rugby's minnows?
11 Sep 07 |  Rugby Union


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