Everyone loves rivalries. And in Latin America, nothing quite trumps the Argentina-Chile rivalry that permeates every interaction between the two. Granted, relations aren’t as chilly between as during 19th century territorial disputes or the Falklands War, but mention the fact that Chile’s World Cup selection finished 2nd in South America this year to an Argentine and you’ll get an earful, if not a black eye.
For this very reason I made sure to get good seats for the Chile/Argentina basketball preliminary. Just watching them warm up looked like high school versus a college team; the Argentines clearly had the height (and weight) advantage and during the game, were unstoppable on the inside. Still, Chile maintained a substantial lead for most of the first half simply by hustling down the court to pressure and play great defense. This was a real joy for the 10,000 or so in attendance who were primarily cheering for Chile. Through most events, Chile has gotten the “fan favorite” treatment, but the fact that they were playing the not-so-humble Argentines made the flag waving chants that much louder.
The 2nd half was back and forth, but with 2 minutes left in the game, Argentina had regained their poise with a 8-point lead. After missing consecutive shots, Chile’s point guard threw up a hail mary shot from nearly half court and banked it in. After getting a defensive stop, the same point guard hit another 3 pointer from the exact same spot (“he’s heating up” I yelled to the bewildered Chilean fans around me). Chile’s hero of a power forward drove to the basket on the next play and lo and behold, Chile had come back with only 30 seconds left to play. Argentina did what they do best by kicking it down low and dunking it, leaving 6 seconds for Chile to tie the game. Chile kept consistent with giving it to their hero for the last play, who penetrated the lane with a good look at a reverse layup, but blew the delivery, losing the game. As Argentina celebrated their near-embarrasment at the hands of a country that doesn’t even have Pro B-ball leauges, Chile’s would-be savior wept on the floor. Despite the outcome, Chile graciously came to center court to receive a standing ovation for one of the best basketball games I’ve had the pleasure of viewing.