There are internationals that have a certain aura about them. Encounters with highly explosive history. England against Germany, Portugal against Spain, Croatia against Serbia. Hardly any rivalry in international football is cultivated as intensely as that between Brazil and Argentina. The “Superclásico de las Américas” has had a bizarre chapter since last Sunday.
The World Cup qualifying match between the two great football powers was just five minutes old when police officers and federal officials from the Brazilian health surveillance agency stormed the lawn of the Neo Quimica Arena in Sao Paulo. The vortex was triggered by the four Premier League legionnaires Emiliano Martinez, Emiliano Buendia (both Aston Villa), Cristiano Romero and Giovani Lo Celso (both Tottenham Hotspur). When they entered Brazil, they had not indicated that they had been in England, one of the four countries on Brazil’s red pandemic list, in the past 14 days. Referee Jesus Valenzuela from Venezuela then had to cancel the game. Since then, the media and officials in both countries have outdone each other with accusations of blame. The farce of Sao Paolo is only the last scandal of an enmity against football that is not poor in memorable moments.
Rivals by tradition
Argentina and Brazil, the two largest and most populous countries in South America, have a long history of conflict and war in common. The times of bitter political enmity have been forgotten, for many Brazilians and Argentines the relationship to the respective neighboring country today is mainly shaped by one thing: football. When British emigrants brought the round leather to South America at the end of the 19th century, the “beautiful game” quickly became the most popular sport on the continent. However, it was initially the duels between Uruguay and Argentina that decided the dominance of the continent. The first official international match of an Argentine and Brazilian selection did not take place until September 20, 1914 in Buenos Aires, the home side prevailed 3-0. Subsequently, the Argentines should dominate the clashes.
That changed in the 1930s, when Brazil’s football became more and more successful and the games between the two teams grew into a manifestation of national pride. The rivalry reached its first inglorious climax in February 1946. Both teams faced each other in the final of the Copa America. Jair Rosa Pinto launched an attack against Argentina captain Jose Salomon 22 minutes after kick-off. Salomon broke his lower leg, the players on the field began to fight, angry spectators stormed the field. The incidents had poisoned the climate between the teams to such an extent that they did not meet each other for over ten years.
In the decades that followed, the Selecao celebrated success after success and finally passed its southern neighbor. The World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970 made Brazil a world power in football. In a World Cup game, the two selections should meet for the first time in 1974. Brazil celebrated a narrow 2-1 success in the West German Lower Saxony stadium. The gauchos got their revenge four years later. At the home World Cup, the star-studded ensembles met in the second group phase, and the goalless draw went down in history as the “Battle of Rosario”. Argentina secured victory in the group with a controversial 6-0 win against Peru on the final day of the match and finally won their first World Cup title. Brazil had to be content with third place – without having lost a single game. The rivals’ last World Cup match in 1990 remains a controversy to this day. The Brazilian full-back Branco accused the Argentine bank of having handed him a water bottle prepared with a sedative. Years later, Diego Maradona confirmed the incident.
The folklore surrounding the game naturally also includes the question of who is the best footballer of all time: Pelé, three-time world champion and popular hero in Brazil, or “el pibe de oro” Diego Maradona. Fifa named both “Player of the Century” in 2000 – even though the scandalous Maradona had previously clearly won an online survey. Today the flagship of the national teams are Lionel Messi and Neymar. The two superstars led their teams to the final of the Copa America in July. The Albiceleste crowned themselves with a 1-0 American championship, it was the first big title for Argentina since 1993. The renewed edition of the final last Sunday promised fireworks. If it hadn’t been for the Brazilian authorities.
Staging or trickery
The incidents are developing into a real political issue. While Brazilian journalists complained about the “typical cheating” of the Argentines and insisted on compliance with the corona rules, the hashtag #Cagones (cowards) was trending in the Argentine media. The Argentine government reacted indignantly to the events. Florencia Carignano, director of the Argentine migration authority, suspected on Twitter that it was more of a “staging” than a health emergency. For many Argentines it is clear: The archenemy wanted to save himself another disgrace with the action. A corona protocol would also have justified the use of the English legionnaires. Naturally, you see things differently in Brazil. The gauchos had tricked the quarantine requirements – the Selecao had not been able to let their own England professionals enter the country beforehand.
The encounter is postponed indefinitely. Fifa will decide on the consequences, the investigations are currently still in progress. The second leg will take place in Buenos Aires on November 16. Then hopefully the sporty headlines will prevail again.