Copa America's Classic Rivalry: Brazil vs. Argentina
It can be safely said that no international football rivalry quite measures up to the fanaticism that characterizes Brazil-Argentina clashes. There are quite a few ‘derbies’ played between neighbouring countries, but the scale of – that sweeps South America’s two largest countries remains unparalleled. Throw in the prestige of the Copa America title, with Argentina as hosts, and you have a truly lip-licking recipe, promising excitement aplenty.
The intensity of this rivalry is steeped in history, with countless interesting footnotes along this journey down memory lane. An extra amount of competition is generally prevalent when two neighbouring countries face off. Certain incidents, however, made it clear that this was far from ordinary competitiveness. A comical interpretation of this rivalry is shown here, in an advertisement starring none other than Diego Maradona.
The 1937 edition of the Copa America (known at the time as the South American Championship) was played in Argentina, where Argentine fans racially abused the Brazilian players on and off the pitch, repeatedly calling them macaquitos (little monkeys). This set off a media sparring match between the Brazilian and Argentine press, and sowed he seeds of an increasingly testy relationship.
The 1946 Copa final saw the two teams face each other in the final once again, in what was as bad-tempered a final as one could imagine. When challenging for a loose ball, Brazilian Jair Rosa Pinto fractured Argentine captain José Salomón’s tibia and fibula. Chaos ensued, with Argentine and Brazilian players fighting on the pitch with the police. The public invaded the pitch, and both teams were forced to return to their dressing rooms. After order was restored the game continued, and Argentina won the match 2–0. In the wake of this clash, the two teams did not play against each other for ten years. One team would decline to play a given cup so that they wouldn’t have to play against the other.
Possibly their most classic clash took place at the 1991 Copa America, with the game finishing 3-2, some brilliant goals and play, including a 35-yard free kick screamer, and no less than five red cards, with, of course, the ensuing chaos and melees accompanying them. The highlights of the game can be watched here.
Where they stand today:
Brazil have been in the top echelon of the world football stage for quite some time now, with 5 World Cup titles supporting their claim to being the most consistently excellent team around. Argentina may only have 2 World Cup titles to show for their endeavors, but their pedigree in the Copa is nothing to sniff at. They have a record 14 wins, with 12 runners-up finishes to boot, while Brazil have 8 wins. It has to be said, however, that in recent times, Brazil have been in the ascendancy, having won 4 of the last 5 editions of the competition. Here’s how the two teams look like now:
Mano Menezes promised fans a more free-flowing style from the Selecao, after previous managerial incumbent Dunga left fans far from enamoured with his pragmatic approach. However, Menezes hasn’t won too many friends with his counter-attacking approach, with Ramires and Lucas forming a double-pivot infront of a more advanced midfield player. This represents a continued departure from the swashbuckling Brazilian sides of old, brimming with verve and panache. The undoubted star of this side is Neymar, the 19-year old attracting covetous glances from Europe’s top clubs. Fresh from winning the Copa Libertadores with Santos, he is likely to join Robinho and a central striker in a front three. Given that the forwards have already received plenty of attention, the player who is most likely to really capture the public’s eye is Neymar’s club-mate Ganso, whose dynamic displays in Santos’ midfield have earned him the label of the ‘next Kaka’, and not without merit. Playing in an advanced midfield role, he has been earmarked to be the heartbeat of the side for years to come. Defensively they look quite impressive, with Lucio or David Luiz set to partner Thiago Silva at the heart of their defense. At right-back, they have two of the world’s finest to choose from in Dani Alves and Maicon. Left-back represents an area of weakness however, with their choices limited to Andre Santos and Adriano. A solid team, but one seemingly divided into two distinct portions of defense and attack.
A thoroughly underwhelming performance in their 1-1 draw against Bolivia set fire to the media cannon, with coach Sergio Batista forced to listen to sermon after sermon illustrating his tactical ineptitude. It has to be said, though, that most of it had plenty of credence. Argentina’s defense is, in all honesty, mediocre. In goal, Sergio Romero, is far from a household name, and their central-defensive partnership of Nicolas Burdisso and Gabriel Milito hardly inspires confidence either. In Javier Zanetti and Marcos Rojo, they have two defensively competent full-backs who can make plenty of forays forward, but they don’t provide any real incisiveness to Argentina’s play, rarely overlapping past the opposition’s full-back or even playing an imaginative pass. With such a defense, it becomes a necessity to play two anchoring midfielders, and Argentina can call upon two of the world’s best in Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Mascherano. Ever Banega had a poor game against Bolivia, but Batista seems to favour him, maybe seeing him bring a bit of dynamism to the holding role, and helping the team tick over. It looks unlikely that these three will work as a group though, so either Banega will have to play further forward, or Javier Pastore will be provided with an opportunity at the expense of either Banega or Cambiasso.
Another pressing issue is the front-line. Any side that can afford to leave Diego Milito, Kun Aguero, Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain on the sidelines is going to suffer infinite doubts over the boundless permutations and combinations at their disposal. How exactly they could set up probably deserves an article in itself. It is pretty clear though, that whoever plays on the right or left will have to provide some width, because the full-backs aren’t too useful in that area.
Another to add to the collection?
The scenes that will greet spectators when they tune in to the final at River’s Estadio Monumenta will be nothing short of electrifying if the two meet again at this year. (This, by the way, must surely be the first time a major final takes place at a club which isn’t in it’s country’s top league!) It may be a bit presumptuous to assume that these two heavyweights will contest the final, with the likes of Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay also in the mix, but it is definitely odds-on. And it also represents the favoured choice among the neutrals. If past meetings between these two are anything to go by, we’re in for one hell of a match. Argentina would literally explode if they trumped their rivals in a final. Conversely, the tension in the stadium would be palpable if Brazil could vanquish La Albiceleste in their own back yard. Here’s to hoping for another Brazil-Argentina final.