“Yes, I am very happy for my country.”
It was a stunning moment on the San Jose Earthquakes beat: head coach Matias Almeyda responding to a question in English, something he does not do, as he normally answers questions in his native Spanish.
But the circumstances that brought us to that moment on Wednesday were stunning too, after Argentina won the 2021 Copa América last weekend.
Considering Argentina is a soccer-crazed country generally and the men’s national team is perpetually regarded as part of the handful of contenders in every competition it enters, the fact that they went 28 years between winning a major competition is, itself, stunning.
“Winning this Copa América was really important for Argentina,” Almeyda went on to say to reporters through an interpreter. “It gives our football pedigree again. This victory has a great meaning, the fact that [Lionel] Messi won’t be asked of anything anymore, that [Angel] Di Maria won’t get criticized as much, that they won’t rush to talk about a coach or a coaching staff. Thanks to the sport and thanks to the players that win the Copa América and everyone that was on the coaching staff in my country, thanks to the sport that gives people joy...because it gives the people who are going through a hard time a smile. And as an Argentinian, I’m thankful to the players, the coaching staff and the executives who gave the people this victory.”
Almeyda did win an Olympic silver medal from the 1996 Atlanta games, but his own international playing career, which spanned 40 caps from 1996-2003, came in the middle of the major title drought for Argentina.
Much as Messi’s relief when he won the title on Saturday was palpable to all watching, the same could be said for Almeyda’s shock use of English and his grin as he said it in celebration of his country’s triumph from afar this week.
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