By Ian Ransom
KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - Argentina may have been knocked out of the World Cup in Russia, but plenty of their frustrated fans remain, holding tickets to finals they expected their team to feature in - while hoping desperately that bitter rivals Brazil get eliminated.
With Argentina runnersup in Brazil four years ago and quarter-finalists at the previous two World Cups, a number of their supporters had understandably planned for a long stay.
But their 4-3 defeat to France in Kazan condemned them to their earliest exit since the 2002 tournament, leaving more than a few itineraries up in the air.
Days after masses of blue-and-white-shirted supporters marched to Kazan Arena singing "champions of Russia", Buenos Aires man Enrique Mayol cut a more subdued figure as he wandered the town centre on a sweltering day.
"This is very tough. In Argentina we are fanatical about soccer. The issue of losing is very tough, especially being here, it alters your life plans," said Mayol, who is left with a ticket to the France-Uruguay quarter-final in Nizhny Novgorod on Friday.
"We had foreseen going to play the quarter-finals in Nizhny and we had to change the tickets because of what we had been assigned.
"But we carry on, and it's an event which takes place every four years, and it's fantastic, and we want to carry on watching soccer."
Tables of Argentine fans did just that at the local 'Twin Peaks' bar, watching gloomily as Brazil beat Mexico 2-0 to set up a quarter-final tie with Belgium in Kazan on Friday.
When Brazil's talisman Neymar scored his goal, a couple of middle-aged Argentines promptly rose from their seats and shuffled towards the exit in disgust.
They are more likely to cheer on Belgium on Friday, but Leandro Garay, from Escobar in Buenos Aires province, said it was tough to support any team left in Russia.
"We Argentines are a bit different in that regard," he said near the Kazan Kremlin, the city's main tourist site.
"We only support Argentina. Other fans support their own team and Argentina or their own team and Brazil, but we only support Argentina.
"Honestly, we are only moved by Argentina and that's it. Argentine football is what runs in our veins."
For Mariano Nayar from Buenos Aires, the pain of seeing Lionel Messi's World Cup exit still lingered as he trudged around town with two sweaty compatriots.
"It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, because our expectations were to get to the final," he said.
"We have the best player of the world so we always bet on him, but sadly this time we did not have a very well-structured team.
"Sadly, we have to watch it on TV now, but we will enjoy it anyway. We like football. In Argentina we are fans by nature so we will enjoy it anyway."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Hugh Lawson)