Brazil v. Argentina: Nuances Of The Ultimate Soccer Rivalry

Many outsiders regard Latin America as monolithic about soccer. But as the World Cup begins in Brazil, a closer comparison of the region's top two teams might surprise you.

Dream showdown would be a nightmare for one.
Dream showdown would be a nightmare for one.
Sylvia Colombo

SAO PAULO — As the World Cup begins today, the old spirit of Marcanazo is haunting Brazil's collective memory.

For the unhaunted, Maracanazo is the term used for Uruguay's unexpected victory over Brazil in the 1950 FIFA World Cup final played in Rio de Janeiro. This time, the question is: Will we lose to Argentina?

After all, the groups seem to be designed to make this scenario happen.

The fact that Brazil is the host country of this year's World Cup is an added reason for Brazilians to covet the title. And Brazil knows that the Argentine team is capable of miracles. There was, for instance, the 2010 game when the team nearly lost its chance to qualify for the World Cup. That's when Argentine player Martin Palermo scored the winning goal in the last minute of the match against Peru, despite a heavy rain and a formidable opponent.

In European or North American eyes, all South Americans share the same visceral attitude toward soccer. But if we take a closer look at Argentinians and Brazilians, starting with sports journalists, we'll see that's not true.

Experience with my Argentinian counterparts tells me that they have an incredible knowledge, great critical skills and clarity of thought, but their blind support for the national team seems almost childish. Brazilians, on the other hand, tend to criticize everything about their national team.

During the America's Cup in 2011, for example, I remember an Argentinian journalist asking a Brazilian to pick the team that would win the title. The Brazilian replied without hesitating: Uruguay. He based his prediction on technical arguments. In response, the wide-eyed Argentinian journalist asked indignantly, "How can you not support your own team?"

Unlikely loyalty

When I moved to Argentina for the first time, I went to San Juan, a city in the Andes mountain range close to the Chilean border. It had nothing in common with the hectic capital: the food, customs, the accent, everything was different. One cold night, I went to see the match between the Boca Juniors, Buenos Aires" most iconic team, which played against a Brazilian team in the Copa Libertadores. I was very surprised to see that San Juan residents were ardent fans of Boca, a team created in an Italian district of Buenos Aires.

A Brazilian fan tries to bury a legend (Adenilson Nunes)

When I began chatting with one of them, I learned that he had never been to the Argentinian capital, but that didn't stop him from being a fanatical Boca supporter. After thinking about it, I realized that we Brazilians never had a team with a nationwide network of blindly supportive fans. What does seem similar, though, is that both nations feel more connected with their local teams than with their national teams.

Guga Chacra and Ariel Palacios, both journalists and argentinophiles, have written a book called Os Hermanos e Nós ("The Hermanos and Us") that sheds some light on the differences between the two country's attitudes about soccer. According to the authors, Brazilians see Argentina as their greatest rival, whereas Argentinians have the same competitive attitude towards Brazil as they have towards Uruguay. Contrary to popular opinion, Argentinians have fewer prejudices about Brazilians than we do about them. This is especially true in recent years. And thanks to a booming Brazilian economy, Argentinians have been regarding us with more admiration and curiosity for our music, culture and politics.

Finally, ever since the Falklands War began in 1982, the Argentinian public regards enemy No. 1 as England. That's why the victory over the English during the 1986 World Cup is almost legendary to them. Thanks to two goals that are considered among the most brilliant in soccer history, Argentina eliminated England and continued its path to its second World Cup victory.

One of those goals, the "Hand of God" by Argentine player Diego Maradona in which he used his hand to score, leaves much to consider. Beyond the personality of Maradona and his capacities, it reveals the Argentinian tendency to trickery. Juan José Sebrelli, an Argentinian philosopher and sociologist, says that his countrymen believe laws are made to be broken, and therefore they can idolize an arguable deceit — because soccer does not allow hands to touch the ball — as the most famous goal in the history of soccer. "To admire Maradona symbolizes our decadency," he says.

In both countries, the relationship between politics and soccer is very strong. Argentinians won their first World Cup title in 1978, under great pressure from the military regime of General Videla. The Brazilian national team had to bear the same political burden in 1970, during the military government of Emílio Médici. In both cases, competition on the field was an instrument of regime propaganda.

According to journalist Ariel Palacios, the governments of both countries still "approach the topic as if it was a matter of state, a type of national epic, a saga of life and death."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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