World Cup 2014: Why Brazilians hate ‘arrogant’ Argentina
The rivalry between neighbours is as intense as ever
The video circulating around a gleeful Argentina has not been lost on the long-suffering Brazilians, just across the eastern border. It depicts Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain dancing around their World Cup training base with Argentinian fans, singing the new tune on the country’s lips.
Brasil, decime que se siente, tener en su casa a tu papa. “Brazil, tell me how it feels, to be bossed about in your own back yard,” begins the song, which develops into a musical excursion around the events of the Italy World Cup in 1990, when a relatively weak Argentina side blessed with Diego Maradona beat the Brazilians 1-0 in a round-of-16 match which they entered without a prayer in Turin.
“Even when years go by…” continues the lyric currently being sung by Argentines from the hills of Belo Horizonte to the Metro system in Buenos Aires, “...we will never forget that El Diego ‘did’ you [with a famous nutmeg], El Cani [goalscorer Claudio Caniggia] immunised you. You’ve been crying ever since Italy up until today. You’re going to see Messi. We’re going to bring the Cup home. Maradona is better; greater than Pele…”
And if that manifestation of the brash, noisy South American neighbour wasn’t enough, the Argentines were last night swarming over the Brazilian border and heading for this city – in what must be one of the great sporting mobilisations of all time. A total of 100,000 Argentines are expected here today at the only World Cup venue reachable by road from their country, where Lionel Messi and team-mates need a point to top their group and book a second-round appointment with Ecuador or Switzerland. The stadium takes fewer than half that number.
The main point of entry is the city of Uruguaiana, which to confuse matters is in Argentina, with some of the notorious hooligan Barra Bravas seeking to break over the Uruguayan border at Liuramento. There are serious security ramifications. A total of 14 Barra Bravas have already been turned back and for the first time in this World Cup, 150 military policemen will be billeted inside the stadium, to supplement the stewards.
Tonight, there will be the question of where these people will be accommodated. A campsite has been thrown together at the Parque Maminia – the location usually reserved for the annual celebration of how this region of Rio Grande do Sul once fought for independence from Brazil.
But the invasion has also sharpened Brazilian thoughts about Argentina, which they would rather have kept out of mind until next month, given that the two titans of South America cannot meet each other in this competition before its final.
“They are a superior and boastful people,” said Adrian Boas, a Brazilian, of the Argentines. “Forgive the discourtesy but I believe that that is because there are English roots to their culture. They are uncontrollable when they come here, too. They drive their cars so fast that our police cannot stop them.”
These insults have been raining in for days. “They are messy,” said Wilma Boucoas, intending no pun, describing in Belo Horizonte at the weekend how the blue and white invasion was chaotic and unkempt.
The Brazilian media characterises the fight in straightforward terms – Messi v Neymar, Maradona v Pele – though it is actually far more complicated and interesting than that. The Brazilians might consider the Argentines to have all the qualities of a wasp but writer and The Independent columnist Alex Bellos, author of the brilliant Futebol, subscribes to the view that Brazilians are not all that interested in that nation. This country’s people look to Miami and Paris, rather than Buenos Aires. Argentina, with their inferior football history, have a narrower perspective. They just want to put one over on their neighbours.
The picture is even more complicated here in the southerly Rio Grande do Sul, which in some ways is Argentinian by any other name. The region shares with Argentina and Uruguay some of the same vast grasslands which gave birth to the gaucho cowboy.
The gaucho, most commonly associated with Argentina, is the local symbol, just like theirs. The players of this colder, harsher corner of the vast Brazilian nation are even known as “gaucho” players –Ronaldinho was Ronaldinho Gaucho when he played at Gremio. Brazilians love a gaucho in their team because it is thought they are tougher, run harder and with more heart and passion than those from the heart of Brazil. Luiz Felipe Scolari, a son of Porto Alegre, is the classic gruff, grumpy gaucho. There is a Uruguayan word for the character: Raca: “For the blood”. So it hardly feels like Brazil at all.
Messi creates another layer of complication. Brazilians just can’t abhor him like they did Maradona, because they feel he has a touch of Brazilian about him.
But the subtleties tend to get cast aside in a World Cup. Neither nation has grounds for supreme confidence because both remain heavily dependent on their single star commodity. Brazil breathed a collective sigh of relief on Monday when theirs, Neymar, delivered them their first convincing win. “E que a historia se repita!” (“May history repeat itself”) proclaimed the local Diario Gaucho paper here, in reference to Brazil’s three previous World Cup wins over their second-round opponents, Chile. But these first two weeks have not been emphatic.
For his part, Argentina manager Alex Sabella found his press conference dominated again last night by the same persistent questions about his team’s Messi dependency. He issued no denials about it. “We try to reduce this dependence but you are always dependent on a player like that,” he said. It was put to him that Messi – who was 27 yesterday – had never played as close to his home border. The challenge will be less formidable today against a Nigerian side less defence-minded than Iran, who need a point to qualify but could be pipped by Iran if they lose.
It is another symptom of the Argentinian obsession with Brazil that they always proclaim their star man is the greater of these two nations’ stand-out stars at Barcelona. Bellos detects a belief in the Brazilians that their own totemic player is the more complete of the pair. The arguments will run and run until one of the teams drops away from this tournament, or else the two collide in the Maracana on 13 July.
For the time being, the Argentines are making the most of what is their most emphatic annexation since Goose Green. The World Cup winning teams from 1978 and 1986 are also expected in the stadium here today, having joined in the mass exodus.
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