Thousands of Argentina soccer fans gathered at the Obelisk monument in the symbolic heart of Buenos Aires on Sunday for what would have been a celebration of the country's best performance in the World Cup in 24 years.
Instead, when Germany's Mario Götze scored the winning goal in the tournament final, sealing Argentina's fate 1-0, the Obelisk party morphed into a chaotic scene. Hours later, at least 100 people were arrested and 70 injuries were reported; at least one was described as serious. Police used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse the crowds after businesses in the area suffered damage.
Argentina's federal security chief, Sergio Berni, said during a radio interview today that the disturbances were "planned." He blamed the incident on the barra brava hooligan councils of two local teams, Chacarita and Independiente — the latter being the squad that infamous barra brava leader Pablo "Bebote" Alvarez cheers on.
VICE News headed to the Obelisk after the match.
At first, it was a jovial party. The streets of the city were crammed with people wrapped in Argentina's blue and white flag, marching and singing a modified soccer chant mocking Brazil's crushing 7-1 defeat against Germany earlier in the World Cup.
I traveled to the center of town on Line D of the subway, from Palermo to Tribunales stations. The car I rode was jammed with people jumping and chanting: "Whoever doesn't jump is a German!" Fans drank from two-liter bottles of Coca-Cola laced with Fernet. Others guzzled cans of beer, banged on drums and cymbals, and played loudly on trumpets.
I emerged in the downtown area above Tribunales station. Around here, where Avenida 9 de Julio meets Avenida Corrientes and where the Obelisk sits, thousands of pedestrians in rambunctious crowds were chanting, waving flags, and munching on street food.
As more people gathered, some began to scale to higher ground, perching themselves on the roofs of bus stops, as others shinnied their way up telephone and light poles.
Up until this moment, the air and mood was predominantly pleasant. But in short time, some of the fans armed themselves with beer bottles and rocks, which they had obtained by breaking up the sidewalk along Avenida 9 de Julio.
It didn't take long for people — some with their faces covered — to start ransacking businesses and theaters in the area. Fans broke windows and destroyed city signage. Mobile transmission trucks that news crews were using to cover the event were attacked.
Alberto Crescenti, the director of Argentina's emergency medical response system, said on Monday that one injured man was still hospitalized after suffering a knife wound that required surgery. At least fifteen officers were injured, authorities said.
Ambulances were unable to reach the scene due to the chaos on the streets, Crescenti said. Overall, the disturbances lasted about three hours.
"We saw the worst of society. There was no need for that. This goes beyond unloading stress," one fan, Pablo Matías Artaza, told VICE News this morning. "I was proud of what Argentina gave."
Indeed, Argentina could have used the win. The last time the country reached the final, in 1990, Argentina also emerged the runner-up to the country then known as West Germany. These days, Argentina is suffering from persistent economic doldrums, while President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is largely out of sight due to illness. Her vice president, Amado Boudou, is facing unprecedented corruption charges.
For his part, the barra brava leader Alvarez did not emerge at the World Cup final on Sunday, as he had promised after his deportation from Brazil last week.
On his Facebook page, Alvarez instead ominously referred to his plans on being at the tournament in Russia in 2018, despite his current inclusion on a government list banning his presence there.
"Keep in mind that since I was deported, we haven't won a single game," Alvarez wrote.