Argentina vs Brazil.... a (biased) potted history

Unlike many national rivalries, England vs Germany, Turkey vs Greece, USA vs Iran, there is little history between Argentina and Brazil that goes beyond football.

The Portuguese-speaking Brazilians and Spanish-speaking Argentines fought over land while they were dividing up the riches of South America.

And although the Argentina–Brazil war during the 1820s resulted in Uruguayan Independence, these land snatches are largely ignored by football loving South Americans. The fierce rivalry between the two countries is almost entirely because of footballing superiority.

Despite recent poor performances by both national teams, Argentines and Brazilians still consider themselves the best in the world. A glance at the FIFA rankings sees Brazil in 5th and Argentina a place below them.

But Spain? "fluke." Germany? "Good but no style." Netherlands? "Who?" Italy? "We taught them everything we know."

Diego takes a tumble in '82

Brazil and Argentina are not only the best teams in the world, they do it with style. And when these teams meet, the so called ‘Battle of South America’ consumes their nations.

We’ll skip over the Pele and Maradona argument that was so brilliant dissected in this month’s FourFourTwo and, instead, look at the history of the sides' rivalry that's been intense and full of incident, scandals and violence.

They have played a total of 93 games, with Argentina winning 34 and Brazil 35, Argentina scoring 149 goals and Brazil 145. Although the national football confederations have disputed some of these results, the relative parity between the arch rivals is not up for debate.

The first major talking point took place was in 1937, in less PC times when a section of the Argentine support were allegedly racist. The Brazilian players walked off before the end of a game that Argentina won 2-0 after extra time.

In 1939 it was the turn of the Argentine team to storm of, after Arcadio López had been sent off for barracking the ref. Brazil waited until the  goalkeeper had walked off and then popped one into the net. The game couldn’t be restarted, so Brazil won 3-2.

Caniggia rounds Taffarel to slot home in 1990

1945 and 1946 witnessed violence spread from the pitch to the terraces and back again. Two games in particular saw broken bones, fractured egos and pitch invasions. Argentina's captain, Jose Salomon, was so badly hurt he never played professionally again.

But then in 1990, one of the most bizarre and infamous incidents in international football took place: the so-called ‘Holy Water’ scandal.

Argentina defeated Brazil 1-0 after Diego Maradona released Claudio Caniggia to score a wonderful goal. But the controversy was only just about to begin.

During a pause in play, the Argentine staff gave Brazilian Branco a water bottle, from which he took a swig, that allegedly was laced with tranquilisers. Not even Branco was aware of this until the Big Mouth struck again and Maradona informed a shocked press about the incident.

Branco threatened to sue the Argentines, but the Argentinian Football Association denied any wrongdoing (of course). It has further intensified every meeting since.

In a 1991 meeting, five players were sent off and one of the finest free kicks you will ever see was scored. Argentina won 3-2.

By now, cheating was almost an accepted ingredient of any clash, with Brazil seeking revenge for the ‘Holy Water’ scandal.

Branco (No.6) takes a 'water' break

In a thrilling 1995 Copa America quarter final, Tulio Costa (clearly) controlled the ball with his arm, but the referee decided it was on the chest and Brazil went on to win on penalties. The Argentine press dubbed it the ‘Hand of the Devil’.

Their last meeting was at the 2008 summer Olympics, a match-up which Argentina won comfortably. 

But with both teams suffering from lacklustre form, especially during the World Cup Qualifiers, they now have more to prove than ever. Not just to each other, but to the world.

And it may be Argentina, under the leadership of ‘El God’, who have turned the corner given their recent performance against France.


FourFourTwo’s April issue, out now, is a South America special.

It features the 10 best new wonderkids from that continent, including exclusive interviews with Manchester United’s twins Fabio and Rafael da Silva plus Sao Paolo’s £100m-rated “new Kaka” Hernanes.

There are also interviews with Zico and Socrates; a look at the Boca Juniors academy responsible for Tevez, Burdisso, Gago, Banega et al; and the Lord of the Rings star so dedicated to Argentine outfit San Lorenzo that he bunked off a film set to see them play.

--------------------------------------------- More to read...

Argentina vs England... a (biased) potted history

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