BUENOS AIRES —
The death of soccer legend Diego Maradona in late 2020 felt like a kick to the head for Fernando Romero, a 30-year-old teacher from a suburb of Buenos Aires.
But when Argentina won the Copa América tournament the next year, Romero felt the spirit of Maradona was with his beloved national team. In the tradition of the country’s avid soccer fans, he began thinking up a song he and his friends could belt out at games.
Borrowing the melody of “Muchachos, Esta Noche Me Emborracho” (Boys, Tonight I’m Getting Drunk), a 2003 hit by the Argentine band La Mosca, Romero created new lyrics that struck deep into the Argentine psyche.
He evoked Maradona and the soccer phenom Lionel Messi, as well as the 1980s war in the Malvinas — or the Falkland Islands — where hundreds of young draftees lost their lives.
In Argentina I was born
Land of Diego and Lionel
From the kids of the Malvinas
That I will never forget
The song started attracting attention after a sports television channel captured Romero singing it outside a soccer stadium. The footage began to spread on the internet.
Then last month, days before the start of the World Cup, La Mosca performed it in a music video.
“Muchachos, Ahora Nos Volvimos A Ilusionar” (Boys, We Are Now Going to Dream Again), quickly became an anthem — sung by the Argentine players in their locker room, the Argentine fans in Qatar and the crowds that gathered at the iconic Obelisk in Buenos Aires this week when Argentina earned a berth in Sunday’s final against France.
“We want to win the World Cup and that song makes us dream,” said Agustin Martin, a 23-year-old carpentry student walking by the Obelisk, where crosswalks have been painted in the national blue and white and digital billboards flash endless World Cup publicity. “Sometimes we even cry when we sing it.”
Argentina, one of the most soccer-obsessed countries in the world, has a long history of fans rewriting the lyrics of popular songs to cheer on their local teams.
The practice can be traced at least to the 1950s, when working-class fans of the Boca Juniors sports club in Buenos Aires purloined an anthem of the country’s populist Peronist movement, said Luis Achondo, a postdoctoral fellow at the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago who is writing a book about songs at soccer games in Latin America.
“From there the culture has grown and grown, and in the Argentine stadiums you sing without stopping,” Achondo said.
Supporters of different teams compete to outdo each other. Many of the songs include slurs. But since fans were traditionally more attached to local teams, the Argentine national team historically struggled to find a repertoire of songs.
That began changing in recent years. The song “Brasil, Decime Que Se Siente” (Brazil, Tell Me How it Feels), written to the tune of “Bad Moon Rising” by the American rock bank Creedence Clearwater Revival, became a hit during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It boasted that “Maradona is greater than Pelé.”
“Muchachos,” which before Romero’s version had already been reworked by fans of the Racing soccer club in Buenos Aires province, avoids attacks on rival soccer nations and focuses on Argentine nationalism.
We are now going to dream again
I want to win the third one
I want to be world champion
The words may be particularly poignant at a time of economic and political crisis in Argentina. Inflation is projected to approach 100% by the end of the year. The polarizing vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was convicted this month for a fraud scheme that occurred when she was president.
Soccer, to an extent, can compensate for life’s precariousness,” Achondo said.
For Eduardo Herrera, an ethnomusicologist at Indiana University who has studied Argentine soccer chants, the unity they create feels a little like a religious experience.
“I don’t think it’s very different from when we go to a church or a synagogue and we recognize that others move the same way we move,” he said. “We kneel, we move our head or we say the same words.”
In Qatar, where two Argentine matches drew the tournament’s largest crowds — nearly 90,000 people each — “Muchachos” could be heard everywhere.
Matías Boela, a journalist who traveled to Qatar for the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, said that the song has “turned into one of the principal tourist attractions of the World Cup.”
Fans from other countries pull out their phones to film groups of Argentines at Metro stations and markets singing the song that calls for Argentina to win its third World Cup.
Messi has La Albiceleste, as the national team is called, one win from accomplishing that.
Heading into Sunday’s final, no player in the tournament has more goals or assists than Messi. At 35, playing in what he says is his final World Cup, the only thing that has eluded him in his brilliant career is a world championship.
But it’s the late Maradona, once Messi’s coach during the 2010 World Cup, who is most revered in Argentina. Even his parents — known as Don Diego and Doña Tota — were soccer royalty.
Maradona led the country to its last World Cup title in 1986, 51 weeks before Messi was born. Messi has played in his shadow his entire career.
Discussing his anthem in an interview on Argentine TV, Romero explained that his lyrics avoid “that constant competition that there was for so long between Messi and Maradona.”
“Both are ours,” he said.
Romero has said that he has been overwhelmed by how the song has been embraced by the country. When he heard that Messi was a fan, “my knees went weak,” he told Argentine media.
In Buenos Aires, it’s impossible to miss signs of the World Cup.
Argentine flags hang from balconies, cars and shop windows. People go to work wearing Messi’s jersey. The city has placed gigantic screens in several neighborhoods where thousands of people can watch the game.
And the soundtrack to it all is “Muchachos.”
“I associate it with being Argentine, with joy and sadness, with the hope and the passion we have for soccer,” said Candela Guadano, a 20-year-old dance student near the Obelisk.
Juan Roberto Mascardi, a 48-year-old journalist in Rosario, the city where Messi was born, credits the song’s success with how it “unites generations through our idols, who are Maradona and Messi.”
“When Maradona retired, those who are close to 50 now thought in that moment of collective hurt that there wasn’t going to be another idol born with similar characteristics, and it happened,” he said.
From the sky we can see him
With Don Diego and the Tota
Cheering Lionel on, and to be champions again, and to be champions again
Times staff writer Miller reported from Mexico City. Special correspondent D’Alessandro reported from Buenos Aires. Times staff writer Kevin Baxter in Al Rayyan, Qatar, contributed to this report.