Fans from the United Arab Emirates and across the Middle East enjoyed the energy and craft of Argentine football in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi last Friday, as Boca Juniors and Racing Club faced off in the Supercopa.
Racing Club walked away triumphantly with a 2-1 win thanks to a penalty in extra time after the two sides had played out a score draw in 90 minutes.
This is the first time the Argentine teams have played in the United Arab Emirates, and although many seats were empty, the hinchas showed up in force, with Argentine flags waving and reggaeton filling the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in the lead-up to kick-off.
“For me it is an obligation” to be here, said Racing Club fan Pablo Garvarrino. “I have been a fan of Racing since birth; my grandfather, my father, they were Racing and I go to see all the games.”
The Argentine travelled to Qatar for the World Cup to support the Albiceleste. When he learned that the Supercopa was also being hosted in the region, he decided to stay until January 20.
“After the World Cup I travelled around, anticipating this: I was always thinking about this match," Garvarrino continued. “It is the most important thing to me, attending this game.”
The life-long Academia fan travelled with Laura Anchuvidart from Neuquen Province, who was excited to follow-up the delirium of the World Cup win with more football.
“It is the first time I am seeing two Argentine teams competing outside of the country, so it is a special experience especially in the Arab world,” Anchuvidart said. “I am very happy.”
The Argentine Football Association and the United Arab Emirates Football Association signed a controversial agreement in 2022 to host matches in the United Arab Emirates, following in the footsteps of other major leagues that have taken cup competitions overseas. While some domestic fans decry the measures, it gives football lovers in Abu Dhabi the chance to see their team.
“I am supporting Boca Juniors of course, it is a historic team and I love [Diego] Maradona,” said Nabhan Almadhani, who is from Madha, an enclave of Oman inside the UAE. “I am most excited about the fans, I watch the games on the TV but in person this is my first time.”
Local fans didn’t just show their support for the teams by sporting Boca scarves or Racing shirts – hundreds of volunteers, most of whom were “Ainawi,” or Al Ain locals, volunteered to assist at the match.
Argentine fans, however, will fight for the title of most dedicated. Pablo Garvarrino, a tax official, flew back to Buenos Aires on January 21, the day after the match and went straight to his job at the Tax court.
“Like the hinchas of Racing say, it is an inexplicable passion. It is very important for us, emotionally, to feel this match,” he said. “The world sees us Argentines as the most passionate fans of them all.”
The energy of the games is different away from home, but it is still a unique experience that a fan like Garvarrino didn’t want to miss.
"Here, it is a sport, nothing more,” the Buenos Aires native said. “It is totally different, two absolutely distinct worlds. Here there is no climate of a final match, like in Argentina where it is a passion.”
While the last clash between the two ended with 11 red cards and fights on the field, thankfully this match was a mostly peaceful affair.
“In this match, simply, we want to show the support that we have for our team, and that there is no problem,” Garvarrino said. “The two hinchadas are enemies, and we are in another place so we need to be on our best behaviour.”