By Mohamed Fajah Barrie in Sao Paulo, Brazil
The rivalry between Brazilian and Argentine fans is clearly visible in the ongoing World Cup despite their respective national teams are yet to face each other. Tens of thousands of Argentines made the journey to neighbouring Brazil not only to throw their weight behind their national team but also to make sure that the fans of the host nation don’t dominate the stadium in numbers whenever they are playing. This is why Argentina have the highest number of fans among visiting teams in the World Cup and their thousands of travelling fans have been in every venue they have played so far.
Both the Brazilian and Argentine national teams are currently in the quarter-final stage of the tournament. Brazil will take on Colombia in Fortaleza on Friday and Argentina will face Belgium in the city of Brasilia the following day. The only chance the two South American footballing power-houses have to clash in the 2014 World Cup is in the grand final and if it happens the iconic Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro will be on fire.
The highly competitive rivalry which is dubbed “Battle of the South Americans”, doesn’t only exist between the two sets of fans but it’s also extended to the national football teams of the two countries. It’s always about supremacy as to who is the best in the game of football. Whenever the Argentine team captained by the four-time FIFA player of the year Lionel Messi are playing, the atmosphere in and around the stadium, in subway stations, inside trains and buses is just like when the host nation is playing.
Brazilian fans have turned out in their tens of thousands in all the matches so far involving Argentina as if it were the Samba boys playing to support the other teams and this trend is expected to continue.
I watched two of Argentina’s four games so far, one in the group stage against Bosnia Herzegovina at the Maracana stadium, their opening match in the World Cup and the other against Switzerland in the second round stage at the Corinthians Itaquera stadium in Sao Paulo. The atmosphere before the kick-off, during and after the matches was noisy and electrifying. Argentine fans most times sang songs ending with the names Messi and Maradona. Brazilian fans on the other hand responded by singing the same songs but changing the names at the end of the songs to their own Neymar and Pele.
The two sets of noisy fans sang the same songs inside trains and buses on their way to the stadiums and also when returning to their homes and hotels. There were wild celebrations by some Argentine fans in the train I was in when I was returning to my hotel after the Argentina-Switzerland game. The fans were hitting the roof of the train whilst chanting the names of Maradona and Messi, prompting an immediate response from the Brazilians in the train. The Brazilian fans in return chanted the names of Neymar and Pele and it went on and on until nearly all of us disembarked the train in Republica, a transit subway station.
As the songs depict, the fans of the two countries always compare Diego Maradona (Argentina) to Pele (Brazil) and their chosen successors Lionel Messi to Neymar respectively. Argentine fans believe Lionel Messi is presently the best player in the world and Diego Maradona is the greatest player of all times. The Brazilians disagree, for them Pele is the greatest footballer the world has ever seen and Neymar is the best in the world for now.
Even local television stations in Brazil have been showing images of Messi and Neymar, comparing the goals both have scored so far in the World Cup and their movements with the ball. Undoubtedly Messi and Neymar are the most dominant footballers from the two countries in the modern game and they carry the expectations of their respective fans to deliver at the ongoing World Cup. So far the two Barcelona players have not let their fans down as both have scored four goals each and assisted others to score.
The players and managers of the two teams have so far refused to be drawn into the rivalry talks. The Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella was asked by an Argentine journalist after the Argentina-Bosnia game about whether he was concerned about the support the Brazilian fans gave to the Bosnia-Herzegovina team. His response was: “I don’t want to talk about things outside the pitch. We are here to play football and not to react to those kinds of things.”
When asked if he was looking forward to a Brazil-Argentina final, the Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari replied: “I don’t want to talk about Argentina because they are not our next opponent and we’re long way to playing in the final. For now I want to talk about our next match.”
Brazil have won the World Cup five times, three times more than Argentina who have won the Copa America 14 times, six times more than Brazil.
The rivalry between the two South America nations became intense after Argentina won the 1978 World Cup for the first time in their own soul.
The intensity of the rivalry was slow to take root, as Newton Cesar de Oliveira Santos explains in his book released in 2008 entitled Brasil x Argentina, histórias do maior clássico do futebol mundial (Brazil-Argentina: stories of the world’s greatest football rivalry). To begin with, the powerhouses of the continent were Uruguay and Argentina, with the Brazilians merely part of the supporting cast. When Brazil got going, however, they made up for lost ground, winning three World Cups and leaving Argentina, so far behind they were not considered rivals. “And that was when the historical turning point occurred,” says the author.
“When Argentina finally got themselves organised, won a World Cup and began to be respected all around the world and were considered one of the favourites in every competition they entered, the Brazilians began to redress the balance of the results in their favour and gain the upper hand at the turn of the century. That was when the rivalry became explicit and fierce on both sides.”
Argentina’s original rival were Uruguay, who had defeated them in the final of the Football Tournament at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928 and also in the first FIFA World Cup in 1930.