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More than meets the eye: Brazil-Argentina rivalry

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Argentina and Brazil, South America's largest countries (in terms of population and area) share a history that is characterized more by rivalry than cooperation. To date, it seems most Argentines and Brazilians have swept the military conflicts of the 19th century under the rug. The Brazil-Argentine soccer rivalry was born in the 20th century, but as Newton Cesar de Oliveira Santos explains in his book "Brazil-Argentina: Stories of the World’s Greatest Football Rivalry," the rivalry was slow to take root...and despite its existence, [the rivalry] hides a deep admiration that each country has for the other."

The soccer rivalry began in 1914, with a 3-0 Argentina victory in a friendly competition. A week later, Brazil won, 1-0 to claim the first Copa Roca, a competition set up by then Argentine president, Julio Argentino Roca. The goal of the Copa Roca was to foster friendship between the two countries, which it did. Argentina’s soccer rival at the time was 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. However, Brazil got going and won its first World Cup in 1958. Argentina then won the World Cup in 1978 and again in 1986 and became favorites in every competition it entered. According to Santos, the Brazilian team "began to redress the balance of the results in their favor and gain the upper hand at the turn of the century. That was when the rivalry became explicit and fierce on both sides.” Argentina and Brazil are also credited for producing some of the world's top soccer players. Brazil’s Pelé and Argentina's Diego Maradona are widely regarded as the best players of all time. Brazil has won five World Cups and Argentina claims two. Argentina’s Lionel Messi has won FIFA’s player of the year four times. Neymar da Silva Santos, Brazil's brilliant attacker, is a reminder of the country's continued soccer glory.

This more or less sets the backdrop for the Brazil-Argentine soccer rivalry, which has grown increasingly bitter. "My first goal is for Argentina to win the World Cup. My second is for Brazil to lose," a writer for Slate Magazine recalls his friend saying at the beginning of the World Cup tournament. Tens of thousands of Argentines have descended on Brazil, singing or taunting - call it whatever you like - Brasil, decime que se siente, tener en casa a tu papá (“Brazil, tell me how it feels, to have your daddy in your house”.) For Brazilians, the ode is a bittersweet reminder of their country's defeat by Argentina in the 1990 World Cup. In his blog piece, 'Why Argentina's World Cup Final Appearance Is Doubly Sweet,' Daniel Politi points out just how much Brazil detests its South American sibling when it comes to soccer. The front page of Brazil’s sports newspaper Lance! blared the day after Argentina’s victory: “Germans since we were little children.” And the subhead read: “Germany ended the dream of a sixth championship for Brazil. Let them now prevent Argentina’s third championship!”

The two countries' soccer rivalry has manifested in innumerable ways, often in conflict and violence. However, as long as Argentina and Brazil remain regional and world soccer powerhouses, that is unlikely to change.

For the love of the game, right?

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