Over the decades, footballing encounters between Brazil and Argentina have created an unmatched rivalry in South America. As part of our "Brazil 2014 Revisited" exhibition, we've been learning about how Brazilian football is viewed by neighbouring Argentinians.
In 1908, Argentinian President Julio A. Roca visited Brazil with the national football team with the aim of bringing the two countries together through sport. Brazil did not yet have a national team, but instead had teams made up of the best players of the various regional leagues, such as those of São Paulo and from the Liga Metropolitana of Rio de Janeiro.
Six years later, on 20 September 1914, the Brazilian national team played their very first match in Buenos Aires, losing 3-0 to Argentina. A week later, with the Copa Roca at stake, again the teams met in in Buenos Aires but this time Brazil defeated the Albiceleste.
In the early years of association football, there was no great rivalry between the two teams and Argentina’s biggest adversary was, in fact, Uruguay. Encounters between the two were spoken of, with no shortage of hyperbole, as the "clásico del Río de la Plata", referring to the estuary separating Buenos Aires and Montevideo. With the passage of time, Brazil’s haul of World Cups between 1958 and 1970, Uruguay’s plummet from the upper echelons of world football, and Argentina’s ascent from the ‘70s onwards all ignited a rivalry that seemingly developed significance retrospectively.
This rivalry began with several important matches in the Copa América during the 1930s and ‘40s. Matches were played with clashes and tension occurring between players on both sides, which resulted in the Argentina’s absence from the 1949 South American Championship and the 1950 World Cup (both organised by Brazil), Argentina’s triumph in the Taça das Nações (or Nations’ Cup) of 1964; all of this made for a clear escalation in the rivalry.
"The respect and admiration of the Argentinians for the Brazilians grew between 1958 and 1970, when the latter got to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy. That was the point when a rivalry started up between the fans of both countries. By the time of the 1978 World Cup, the Argentinian crowds had a song against Brazil," explains historian Osvaldo Gorgazzi.
Although the enmity continued to grow, the Argentinian fans were great admirers of Brazilian players. A brief survey in which the journalist Eduardo Cantaro gathered the responses of fans, players and other journalists revealed that Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Pelé were top of Argentinians’ lists when it came to picking opponents for whom they felt a degree of adoration.
The survey also showed an enjoyment of the Brazilian style of football and that Neymar is the latest in a long line of exponents of jogo bonito, whose names are seared into the memories of the fans of the Albiceleste: Sócrates, Garrincha, Rivaldo, Romario, Zico, Roberto Carlos, Rivelino and an almost endless list of greats.
World champion in 1986, Julio Olarticoechea was also a member of the team that defeated Brazil at the 1990 World Cup in Italy and he explains the difference between Argentinian and Brazilian players: “They (Brazilians) look to play right throughout the match, regardless of the score. They don’t rush to score a goal because they know they can get one, even in the last minute.
Despite the number of historic contests between Argentina and Brazil, which is relatively even in terms of claims to the bragging rights, they recently met in the final of the 2004 Copa América in Peru. The Brazilians managed to win on penalties, having equalised deep into stoppage time. The teams met in the Final of the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2005, the match ending in a controversial 4-1 to Brazil, and then again at the 2007 Copa América in Venezuela, which also ended 3-0 in favour of Brazil.
This is why today’s Argentinians will always cheer for Brazil’s opponents, in any match. Most fans agree that they would prefer to see them lose, while the rest just don’t really care all that much. It seems that, essentially, Argentinians love to watch a good Brazilian play - so long as he’s playing for a club and has nothing to do with the national team.