Talking about football rivalries, we always think about the club rivalries because what we see throughout the year is league football thus we all know what it is like when Manchester United play Manchester City or Liverpool play Everton or how much it means to the whole of Catalonia when Barcelona beats Real Madrid. But the international games are like red letter day in the diary of a football enthusiast. Most people usually are apathetic towards these games thus it does not create that much ripples throughout the globe as a club game would plus the frequency of these ties hamper their popularity. International football rivalries are mostly born on the subtext of common grounds or political animosity or perhaps due to the stature of the teams involved for instance Argentina –Brazil or for the sheer history of the fixture like the curious case of England vs. Argentina or perhaps England – Germany for that matter.
One such rivalry that has propped due to the proximity of the countries, richness of history, the indistinguishable cultures and a common language i.e. Spanish is Argentina –Uruguay. This may sound absurd to many but here I have to mention the fact that Uruguay were the inaugural champions of the World Cup, that too winning against Argentina, and they won it once more in 1950. Thus there was a role reversal in the earlier times as far as what we perceive nowadays being Argentina a bigger and far more competent force whereas Uruguay have had mixed luck on the world stage after the initial blossom failing to qualify certain times and then coming up as a force and stunning people to secure a fourth place finish in South Africa last year. The fixture Argentina versus Uruguay is one of the most repeated fixtures in the footballing calendar throughout the history and hence the rivalry never calms down. It’s not just a game but a way to find who holds the bragging rights.
This rivalry stretches back to the times when the English prevailed in both the countries trying to teach the South Americans sports such as cricket and football. The first game between the two countries tracks back to 1889 with majority of the team consisting of English chaps. The rivalry got it’s real meaning during the first World Cup when Uruguay took the trophy in their homeland beating their neighbors, coming back after trailing and winning the game. Certain people attributed this victory to the crowd who whilst supporting their team harassed the opposition team in a manner that it effected their game play. Moreover the game was a feisty affair that saw hard tackles, bad challenges and injuries (at a time when substitutions were not a part of the game ). Another sect of experts say that most of the marquee players of Argentina never played to their fullest ability due to the fear of not reaching their homeland. Whatever the reason may have been, this loss did not go down well with the Argentine supporters as they attacked the Uruguayan consulate in retribution. Thus a new rivalry came into existence. The World Cup final had far reaching consequences with the whole of South America suffering from it because for a considerable period after the 1930 World Cup, both team declined to play the Copa America . Finally in 1935 both the federations subsided.
Copa America in itself remained a battleground for both countries as the earlier phase saw both the teams maintain a lion’s share in the number of titles won before the emergence of Brazil. Till now both the countries stand on the top in the tally of Copa America won with both countries tied with 14 titles. Whenever these two South American giants met in the competition it was always guaranteed to be controversial.
The rivalry was reignited in Mexico 1986 that saw Argentina lift the World Cup and far more famous for the ‘Hand of god’ goal. The two teams met in the round of 16 and Uruguay were already labeled as the most cynical team of the World Cup. Though Argentina got one over their neighbour, the game was more famous for the hard tackles and reckless fouls directed particularly against the man of the tournament Diego Maradona. This match brought forward the Uruguayans as the beasts and the Argentineans as the beauty, and this image went a long way with both faction of fans justifying their nations. While the Argentinean fans look down towards their Uruguayan counter parts due to the crass, hard tackling , over physical nature of their team, the Uruguayans blame their neighbors for being too soft and gentle on the pitch, always exaggerating and manipulating an incident, being sly as ever and not playing the men’s game in a way men do .
The last crunch game played between the two rivals was the 2010 World Cup qualifier that saw both the teams in dire straits and locked in a battle to secure the final WC berth. With Argentina boasting a line up with names like Messi, Tevez and Higuain on it and a coach of Maradona’s stature, it was bound to be tough for Uruguay as it eventually turned out despite the home advantage and the usual abuses hurled at the visitors. Argentina edged it in the last few minutes with a solitary goal by Mario Bollatti.
With this year’s Copa America being held in Argentina, the host nation will be looking to win a major trophy after a long barren spell. Uruguay, a tiny nation in comparison to its neighbours whom the rival fans ridicule by the name of “un barrio de Buenos Aires “(loosely translated to –a neighborhood of Buenos Aires) as the population of the Argentine capital is more than four times that of the whole Uruguay,will be expected to be a contender after showing what they are capable of in the 2010 World Cup, with some experts labeling this Uruguayan squad as the best squad seen in the past two –three decades. This, combined with the motivation of winning it in their cross border neighbour’s territory would work as a driving force. And if by chance these sides do meet each other during the course of tournament it would surely be a lips smacking competition to watch.