Saturday
August 23, 2014

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

A love-hate relationship

A vendor inflates soccer balls as Argentina soccer fans chant slogans against the team they most love to hate, the Brazilians, on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro yesterday.
By Alejandro Wall
Special to the Herald from Rio de Janeiro
Argentine-Brazilian rivalry openly seen may shadow mutual admiration

RIO DE JANEIRO — Carlos Bilardo thought the problem was the hatred of Brazil. Argentina had to play against the verdeamarela a in the Copa América of 1983. The Argentine manager understood that it would be best to expose his players to Brazilian culture, so he decided make them listen to and dance samba, getting it under their skin. We’ll never know how much of a difference it made, but Argentina beat Brazil 1-0, with the current manager of Palmeiras, a Brazilian club, getting on the score-sheet. Seven years later, Bilardo led the national team that ousted Brazil at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, an event consecrated in the song currently leaving Argentine fans hoarse in Rio de Janeiro.

What isn’t recalled by this World Cup anthem is one of the most shameful episodes of Argentine football: when the Argentina coaching staff allegedly spiked a water container. According to Diego Maradona, Rohypnol, a tranquilizer, was given to Brazilian left-back Branca.

But the rivalry between Argentines and Brazilians, now seen so openly during the World Cup, didn’t begin there. This afternoon, when Argentina plays against Germany for the final — an event the country has awaited for 24 years — local fans are expected to cheer on for the Europeans. The rivalry didn’t start out with soccer. It actually originates from the time of the colonies, when Portugal was in Brazil and Spain surrounded it with bordering territory. “We inherited the rivalry left to us by the old bosses, the colonizers,” says Brazilian journalist Ariel Palacios, co-author with Guga Chacra of Os irmãos e nos (Our brothers and us), a book on the relationship between Brazilians and Argentines. “It was a military rivalry,” the journalist adds, “which continued into the war with Brazil, the support of the coup against Juan Manuel de Rosas, with the battle of Caseros, in 1852, being the last time Brazilian troops engaged against Argentina.”

Malvinas brought a decisive end to any differences. Brazil supportted Argentina comprehensively. Juan Gabriel Tokatlián, professor of international relations at Torcuato Di Tella University, explains that the countries never had a relationship of enmity, rather one of rivalry. He adds: “Since the 80s, a relationship of friendship has been gradually promoted. We can see a recent sign of this change in each Defence Ministry’s elimination of the hypothesis of mutual military conflict; neither Argentina nor Brazil has plans nor do they train for a potential bilateral enclash. We also share the only bilateral mechanism in the world for the inspection and verification of our (peaceful) use of nuclear devices: the ABACC.”

Although friendship was fostered in many areas, Tokatlián explains, soccer has not been one of these. “But it’s not that evident that rivalry is all there is to it. For many, the main soccer rivalry is with England, which outdates the Malvinas War and more recent events. For Argentines, the soccer relationship with Brazil is marked by frontal, intense and legitimate competition, which I do believe to be reciprocal. We admire them, and they admire us, they challenge us, and we challenge them, we provoke them and they provoke us and they respect us and we respect them. It’s like that, and it will always be,” he says.

“The Brazilian grew up being told that the Argentine is an enemy, and they do not question that; he doesn’t want to learn or build bridges,” says Sylvia Colombo, a journalist at the Folha newspaper. “Brazilians take pride in saying: ‘I don’t need to learn Spanish, because I speak portuñol,’ as if it were a triumph of mischief over learning. It’s not, it’s the triumph of ignorance and arrogance over a true desire to become acquainted.”

Argentine sociologist Pablo Alabarces, who conducted a study with his Brazilian counterpart Ronaldo Helal into the countries’ relationship, sums it up in one phrase: “Brazilians love to hate Argentines, while Argentines hate loving Brazilians.” Helal makes reference to the phrase in his column in the Globo newspaper from this week. The Brazilian journalist and sociologist says the narrative of the Argentine press was praiseworthy of Brazil and even vindicated jogo bonito and the joy of the country, although Olé started to provoke in 1996. “Let the macaques come,” the sports newspaper headlined ahead of an Argentina match against Brazil. It had to apologize the next day. However, Palacios notes in his book that in 1920, the Crítica newspaper headlined: “Monkeys in Buenos Aires,” illustrated with a picture of monkeys with Brazilian shirts. “The little macaques are already in Buenos Aires,” the article opened.

“We have what we deserve, we have spread arrogance, pedantry and narcissism throughout Latin America. They repay us with mockery and ill wishes,” says Alabarces. An example is the song that has become the hit of the World Cup. “Brazil tell me how it feels, to have your dad in your home,” makes reference to the victory of 1990, the presence of Lionel Messi and that “Maradona is greater than Pelé.” For Alabarces, it’s a song of support that “invents paternity where there isn’t one.”

Palacios notes the sarcastic commercials aired in Brazil about Argentines, something that isn’t seen in Argentina with Brazilians — except one by Olé ahead of the World Cup mocking Pelé over how he is said to have lost his virginity. Helal recalls a beer advert in Brazil in which Argentines were called “faggots.”

“The difference is that Argentines know us,” says Colombo, “and that they like us a lot more than we do them. They know our music, culture and even admire some of our politicians. In general, they are a lot more informed and educated than us.”

“They come here on holiday, their consumption of our music is amazing, Brazilian women fascinate them and the dream of many Argentines is to have a little house on the Brazilian beach,” Palacios adds.

Ipanema and Copacabana have been invaded by Argentines in the last few days. Spanish is heard on the streets almost as much as Portuguese. About 100,000 are expected in the city for the final this evening, although the majority doesn’t have tickets. At every street corner, the notorious “Brazil tell me how it feels “is heard.” It’s curious: the face-offs in stadiums were between Brazilians and Argentines, when the teams never actually met on the pitch. It’s possible that the chant, a provocation for locals, will have led the majority of Brazilians to support Germany today, despite the 7-1 loss to the Europeans. “Germany is a circumstantial rival for Brazil, while Argentina is a permanent one,” says Palacios, a BA City correspondent for Folha.

But there are also many Brazilians that will support Argentina today, as there were Argentines that were saddened by Brazil having been knocked out. Tokatlián recalls that while he watched the match at the Di Tella University, only one youngster celebrated the German goal, no one else. For some Brazilians and Argentines, in some way, the desire for the other to win was just a form of rivalry. What was really desired was a final between Argentina and Brazil at the Maracanã, the first in history. But it was not to be.

@alejwall

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