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Rout Relieves Argentines

June 17, 2006|Patrick J. McDonnell and Andres D'Alessandro

BUENOS AIRES — Traffic was light, and Argentines gripped their coffee cups, mumbled nervously and nibbled at croissants while focusing on television sets.

As play began across the Atlantic, business halted at cafes and offices. All eyes turned toward the ubiquitous screens. With every Argentine goal, anxiety eased, until Friday's 6-0 thrashing of Serbia and Montenegro unleashed an impromptu festival.

"This is a great day for our football," said Ruben Russo, 38, a casino worker who was one of several thousand revelers who gathered at the Obelisk, a monument downtown. "This day will be remembered forever."

Four years after the national team was humiliated in a first-round ouster in Asia, Argentines seemed confident after their squad convincingly qualified for the round of 16.

"When the players first gathered on the field, I was a bit scared," said Gaston Zeta, 27, a mechanic. "But our side played together as a team more than any Argentine squad I've ever seen."

So focused were Argentines on this tournament that the 20th anniversary of the death of Jorge Luis Borges -- arguably the nation's greatest writer, one who wrote disapprovingly of his countrymen's passion for futbol -- was largely overlooked this week.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell

and Andres D'Alessandro

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