World Cup: Argentina obsessed with soccer; madness grows with each victory

Whenever Argentina's national squad comes on the field, Buenos Aires turns into a ghost town as offices shut down, stock trading slows and classrooms idle for the 90 minutes (or more) of all-engrossing sport known here as "futbol." The World Cup is the culmination of four years of preparation, hopes and anxieties.

Here soccer is more than just a pastime. It's a national obsession in a country that won the World Cup twice and where fascination with "futbol" is only matched in its biggest South American rival, five-time champion Brazil.

Four years ago, Argentina was humiliated by a shocking first-round elimination. Today, many Argentines still wince when they recall the team's worst performance in history.

Those past shocks are now giving way to new fervor, the AP reports.

Argentina led Group C, then beat Mexico 2-1 in a hard-fought overtime match in Saturday's second-round. Now the country is in suspense, awaiting host Germany in a quarterfinal Friday.

Roberto Fontanarrosa, an Argentine novelist who writes about soccer for the big daily Clarin, said soccer is a matter of national pride.

Argentina won its first Cup in 1978 at home under the watchful eye of the military dictatorship. Then Argentina repeated in 1986 when Diego Maradona nearly single-handedly led his squad to victory in Mexico. There, in the quarterfinals, he outraced English defenders from midfield to bury the ball in the net in what many call the greatest World Cup goal, the AP reports.