This World Cup has seen Latin American soccer fans cheering for each others’ teams. Not Argentines and Brazilians, whose rivalry remains stubbornly in place.
Quarrels between fans of South America’s two biggest countries have broken out in stadiums as supporters taunt each other. Police intervened in Belo Horizonte where Argentina fans and host Brazil threw bottles and projectiles at each other before a game.
Tens of thousands of Argentines are arriving in Sao Paulo for a knockout stage game today against Switzerland. At least 37,000, mostly without tickets, traveled to Porto Alegre on June 25 for Argentina’s final group match. That game triggered security alerts and a few incidents including burglary. On the pitch, the biggest stars of each team, Lionel Messi and Neymar, are fighting neck-and-neck with Colombia’s James Rodriguez to become the tournament’s top goal scorer.
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Both countries share soccer as a dominant passion and it leads to contention despite historic economic and cultural ties, said Newton de Oliveira Santos, a researcher who wrote a book about the history of the soccer rivalry between the countries. Both claim to have produced the top player. The Argentines say it is 1986 World Cup winner Diego Maradona, while Brazilians say record 3-time champion Pele is the undisputed “King” of soccer.
Scores of Argentinian fans were queuing from early hours today to try to secure a ticket for the game, with scalpers offering as much as five times the face value.
“This is pure passion, it’s not rational,” Oliveira Santos said by telephone from Sao Paulo. “A final between them would be the final of the century.”
Argentina and Brazil, which played their first soccer derby almost 100 years ago, have a lot at stake in the first World Cup hosted in Latin America since 1986, explaining the enmity on the pitch with a 1,261-kilometer (784 mile) shared border.
Brazil is three victories from winning in its own Maracana stadium, where 64 years ago it blew a chance for the title in the final. All it needed was to tie that match in 1950 but Brazil allowed Uruguay to win 2-1. The defeat is still considered a national disaster and referred to as the Maracanazo, or the Maracana Blow.
The teams have reached the knockout stage on opposite sides of the schedule, so a match between them is only possible at the July 13 final. Ronaldo, a retired Brazilian national team player and World Cup winner, is “almost certain” Brazil and Argentina will face off in the final for the first time in the competition’s history.
“This will be a dream, it will be nice -- if we win,” Ronaldo told reporters on June 26. “I hope Argentina loses before that.”
A final between the teams would require additional security given the intense rivalry, according to Roberto Alzir, deputy secretary for mega events at Rio’s public safety secretariat.
“Brazil versus Argentina is a scenario that would demand from us an additional effort,” Alzir told reporters on June 27.
Argentina faces Switzerland in Sao Paulo today for a place in the quarterfinals. Brazil beat Chile 3-2 on June 28 in a penalty shootout to advance to that round.
While arguments between supporters are “natural” at World Cup stadiums as fans aren’t segregated, no one at Maracana stadium has been gravely injured in any matches, Alzir said.
The animosity has led to images such as blue-shirted Argentinian supporters exchanging insults and threats with Brazilian fans at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium on June 21 when Argentina beat Iran 1-0. At that game, Argentina captain Messi was abused by a group of Brazilian fans from the stands.
“We are aware of isolated cases” of brawls in previous games, Saint Clair Milesi, a spokesman for the World Cup’s Local Organizing Committee, told reporters yesterday. “There is no space for fighting and we appeal to the fair play of fans.”
Argentina is the largest foreign buyer of World Cup tickets after the U.S. and supporters have invaded Brazilian host cities chanting songs, including one goading Brazil about their most recent World Cup encounter. A back-against-the-wall 1-0 victory against a superior opponent where magic from Maradona eliminated Brazil from the 1990 games in Italy.
“You’ve been crying from Italy until today,” goes the tune, which has even been sung by the Argentine players, before promising that Messi will win the trophy back.
The Brazilian retort is a simple one: “Pentacampeao,” or “Five-time winner.” Argentina has two titles.
Fueled by Alcohol
Elmo Cordeiro, 79, who was a ball boy when the World Cup was last held in Brazil 64 years ago, says the feelings of South American brotherhood can only stretch so far.
“We are with our South American neighbors, but support them? Never,” Cordeiro said in Belo Horizonte on June 22.
FIFA’s decision to allow the sale of alcoholic drinks during World Cup matches, which is usually banned at Latin American stadiums, may intensify the clashes between fans, researcher Oliveira Santos said.
“A joke that is acceptable when being sober becomes unacceptable after some drinks,” he said. “That’s the big risk.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at email@example.com Peter Millard, Robin Saponar