During the interval, the warm buzz of the crowd was disturbed by an unexpected visitor. A clique of suited heavy-set men had emerged from the rear of our stand. Their dark shades were practically employed to disguise their identities rather than keep out the sun. Within their protective huddle, a fat smiling man waved about him like a mafia capo dei capi daring his audience to defy him. For this was a different type of criminal, and one clearly deluded by power.
He had been identified as a particularly hated member of the government. But with safety in numbers – these bystanders could express their true feelings. Anger audibly rippled through their ranks. As news of his presence spread, the nearby fans turned their backs on the pitch to face down this real foe – deigning to rub shoulders with the common man. Arms were raised in unison to point down their object of hatred. From many voices, one chant emerged.
As the hostility boiled outwards towards him, the politician shamelessly pretended the abuse was adulation. To this dark new song, the good-natured mockery of the Paraguayan team bore no resemblance. It wasn’t going to fade away like the fickle distraction of a Mexican Wave.
Finally, the bodyguards – perhaps more objective in their perceptions than their boss – shuffled him away in a disordered retreat. I could still make out his pearly teeth – frozen now within a rictus of fake cheeriness as he retreated from the stage still manically waving as if compelled by some mad instinct – like a well-beaten boxer refusing to acknowledge the truth of the judges’ decision. Perhaps the madness was needed to do his job, but today, confronted by the awful truth, he was shown the boundary of his power. His lies could not cross it.
Seconds later, a whistle from the referee signalled the return to a game of football. The happy cheers returned. The politician was gone. The will of the people had prevailed.
He was not forgotten, but consigned forcibly back to his realm. The failures of the Paraguayan defence had brought rapturous joy to the crowd, but the public own-goal of one of their leaders left a bitter taste unsuitable for humour. In a grim campaign, it was a small but rare victory. For a few moments, the time, the place, the country, all belonged to them.