Editor’s note: One of the less discussed topics at this World Cup has been the vocal animosity that Brazil fans have shown towards Argentina, whether it’s Brazilians booing the Argentina team and/or cheering on Argentina’s opposition. Now with Argentina in the final on Brazil soil, we thought it’d be a good opportunity to have World Soccer Talk writer Juan Arango shine some light on this love-hate relationship between Argentina and Brazil.
If you were to tell me who to use as a reference in order to get a better idea regarding the relationship between Argentina and Brazil on the football pitch, I would recommend Jimmy Connors. The tennis player always said that throughout his career he had very few friends because he could not have an acquaintance of a person that could beat him on the tennis court. A rival can be respected, but to have a friendship with them would leave you susceptible to weakness.
When I lived in Argentina, I had the pleasure of experiencing the 2002 World Cup in a footballing nation. The Argentine elimination after drawing with Sweden was one of the most surreal moments that I had seen up to that point. Yet it was even more awkward to see scantily clad Brazilians dancing on the streets of Buenos Aires when they beat Germany to win their fifth World Cup. It was about 45F on that winter morning, and a carnival emerged. The noise for many was unbearable, not just because it was eight in the morning. It was unbearable and they didn’t care one bit. They celebrated on Argentine soil a title that was won nearly 11 time zones away.
As I watched from a local bar, an Argentine friend of mine told me words that gave me a bit of insight I never imagined to have. “It’s ok, they won the World Cup. Brazil are our rivals, but England are our enemies.”
Sunday’s match is similar but quite a bit different. Argentina are looking to win what would be the sweetest title should they overcome a powerful German side in the Mecca of Brazilian football – Maracanã.
There is no love lost between Argentina and Brazil on the pitch. Yes, there is a great deal of respect by both sides. You would see that respect on the streets of Savassi over in Belo Horizonte after Lionel Messi hit the ball into the back of the Iranian net. There was lots of commingling, lots of socializing and lots of “hookups” between Argentine fans and Brazilian locals. Many were accompanied when the sun came up the following morning. All this occurred just hours after Brazilian fans were at the Mineirão chanting in favor of the Iranians and were silenced by Messi’s wonder strike.
Just 24 hours earlier, Brazilian and Argentine fans fought in the streets of Belo Horizonte, throwing bottles of any that could fly to the opposite side of the plaza. After that incident subsided and the trolling was over, fans of both sides were talking and discussing the World Cup in the official language of many tourists from Latin America- Portuñol.
At the international level, there is no rivalry like this one. People can tell me about England-Scotland, England-Germany or even US-Mexico, but none of them match up to the rivalry and history that both Brazil and Argentina have been able to create. This rivalry has been played on virtually every corner of the planet to packed houses. What makes it more intriguing is the amount of players that have been on this pitch.
Do they dislike each other on the pitch? Absolutely. But beyond that, they know that they coexist very well. If Brazil and Argentina were such huge rivals off the pitch, neither would be as vital to the other’s tourism.
“Brazil is the first country Argentinians visit. Argentina is the first country Brazilians visit,” said Mauricio Savarese, co-author of the book A to Zico, an Alphabet of Brazilian Football. “We mostly love each other. Not in football.”
Savarese talked about this extensively and it makes sense. If two countries hate each other so deeply, they would have nothing to do with being a primary factor in the other’s tourism industry. Argentines flock to places like Rio, Bahia and even Florianópolis in Santa Catarina do Sul, especially in the summer.
The opposite happens with Brazilians as Buenos Aires is their point of preference within Argentina for getaways or even vacationing. If you look at this, proximity is a factor, but the main one is that they enjoy going there.
Radio Globo pundit Marcelo Bechler also talked about this issue in an article he published on his column on Friday. To say that Argentines and Brazilians just simply hate each other is extremely vague, and looks only at their relationship within the football pitch.
“Yes there are Argentina fans that call Brazilians macacos (monkeys). But that is what happens in moments of fury where things like those expose the racism we have and when the opportunity emerges, it comes out.” Bechler also mentioned that there was a great deal of abuse given to Colombian defender Camilo Zúñiga after he injured Neymar.
Are there individuals that have a sense of vitriol towards their adjacent neighbors? Absolutely. That is the case in any part of the world. Argentina and Brazil are no exceptions to the rule. Those behaviors go beyond topography, geography or borders; that is a human condition.
The media in Brazil, like their counterparts in Argentina, feed off of that rivalry. There is a need to despise. There is a need to have a rival or a rivalry when in reality there is no need to conjure one up. When you watched commercials on Brazilian television, Argentines were portrayed as pedantic. Some took it to the bank. Companies like Bom Negocio took that as a way to market their company during the World Cup.
Soccer fans are well aware of the 1978 World Cup, and Brazilians constantly remind you that the tournament was a sham. Many individuals in Brazil point at the Argentine military junta of the time doing everything that they could to make sure that the World Cup was not a source of victory but a way to empower the propaganda that they wanted to push out to the rest of the world. Brazilian fans also are quick to point out the water bottle incident between Branco and current AFA manager Carlos Bilardo back in the 1990 World Cup.
This was certainly part of Bilardo’s modus operandi throughout his time as a player and as a coach. He was known for stepping on players and sticking opponents with needles during his playing days. As a coach, he’d also find out who his opponents’ wives were and would find information in order to use it against them in the heat of battle. All in the name of winning… at all costs.
In that 1990 World Cup, Branco said that Bilardo allegedly spiked a water bottle with sedatives that he drank. That emerged from the mouth of the player like Diego Maradona years later in an interview with Argentine television and in a feature that focused on the subject.
That match in Turin became part of Maradonian lore and was also the rallying cry and source of banter of Argentines throughout this World Cup campaign. A bit ironic being that Brazil won two World Cups in that span of time and played in a final in 1998 while Argentina’s trophy case remains the same as it was in 1993.
Yet their now infamous chant is one part provocation and one part retaliation. Brazilians throughout the World Cup kept taunting them until the mouths of many were wired shut by the rare bit of Messi magic or Argentina’s newly found defensive inspiration.
All in all, Brazilians aren’t innocent in this rivalry either. Many in England will forever remember Maradona’s “Hand of God”; but in Brazil they will always remember the “Hand of Túlio” in the 1995 Copa América quarterfinals when Tulio Maravilha literally trapped the ball in the area with his forearm and eventually scored the equalizer in that match. Referee Alberto Tejada of Peru, the man that eventually became the current Minister of Health in the Andean nation, must’ve been watching some of the women in the stands during that play. Eventually the Brazilians advanced and would play the United States in the semifinals.
These are just some samplings of the greatest hits of the past quarter century. Yet to get a bigger scope of what this rivalry is like, you have to recall some of the matches that the two countries played in the Copa Libertadores dating back to the 1960’s. Historically, there were confrontations on a massive scale. Between the fireworks and the chanting between the two, the fights and rock throwing outside the stadium were potentially worse.
“They wore the jerseys of all the teams that we faced,” said Renato Della Paolera of Argentine radio station Radio América. “As the tournament went on, the situations got more aggressive, but in the end nothing really serious came of it save for the situation that emerged in Belo Horizonte (before the Iran match).”
Della Paolera also mentioned that the Argentines weren’t innocent either. “Us Argentines weren’t far behind. We’re always looking to not back down in the banter.” Yet he was very aware that the banter was just simply that. “When both (Argentina and Brazil) weren’t playing, everything was fine.”
I was ridiculed by fellow colleagues when I told them that the rivalry was not as great. But when you walked around cities like Belo Horizonte, Rio and others, you saw Brazilians and Argentines sharing Brahma or even Fernet (that Albiceleste fans brought from their backyard).
Now, who will Brazilians be rooting for on Sunday you ask? Well, that you will have to ask on a case-by-case basis. They were given seven reasons on Tuesday to not root for Germany, but will it be enough for it to trump generations of footballing rivalry? We’ll see. But as much as people on the outside think Argentines despise Brazilians, well you’d have to write a separate article on the English and that one might change your mind.