The Pelé vs Maradona debate is one that will perhaps continue to divide the world of fans until the beautiful game is played.
It is a rivalry that is steeped in history.
Diego Maradona and Pele (photo on Twitter)
In the 1925 edition of the tournament now called the Copa America, Argentina, which at that time had two different and rival football associations, defeated Brazil 4-1 in a championship match. The two heavyweight teams met again on Christmas Day in the summit clash, which earned the nickname ‘The War of the Barracas’ (the match was played at the Estadio Sportivo Barracas in Buenos Aires, inaugurated in 1920 and demolished in 1937 ).
The final of 25 December 1925 was the one that saw all hell break loose on the pitch and in the stands. It became free for all and police officers had to rush to try and calm things down. Some reports suggest that the visiting Brazilians feared for their well-being, so much so that they capitulated after taking the lead, fearing the outcome of a victory and the backlash from locals that was all but inevitable. Argentina went on to win the title, but the violence between players and fans was one of the worst scenes seen on a pitch involving two of world football’s giants.
The two teams did not meet again for 12 years.
Similar scenes of violence were seen at the 1978 World Cup in a match that ended 0-0 and dubbed “The Battle of Rosario”.
Needless to say, there is a certain romance that this rivalry carries with it. It’s so much more than just a football game. There’s too much at stake whenever these two teams go head to head and it’s not always the trophy they’re fighting for. It is bragging, pride. This is the real prize for these two teams and for their fans, spread all over the world.
16,513 km from Buenos Aires and 15,366 km from Brasilia is Kolkata. Visit the ‘city of joy’ one day, if you haven’t already, and you’ll see how it’s divided into Brazil and Argentina, with the South American rivalry (between fellow Calcutta) reaching a fever pitch.
When it comes to Brazil vs Argentina, one can witness a similar frenzy in Kerala. Before the Qatar edition kicked off, videos of the two teams’ fans clashing in a violent brawl in the Kollam district went viral. One Twitter user summed it up well in one post, asking, “Who won this?” Brazilian Mallus or Argentine Mallus?’
It’s a love story steeped in violence and aggression, like so many other great sports rivalries, but it’s a love story nonetheless, a passion that drives fans even halfway around the world. And that’s really the essence of the Brazil-Argentina rivalry and its fan following: it’s limitless, not contained by geographical borders.
I remember the first very clearly fifa world cup which I watched from start to finish. It was Italia ’90, the 1990 edition in Italy. Diego Maradona was the idol of every football-loving child at that time. We were all busy collecting the players cards which came free with a certain brand of chewing gum which was only available in a few shops in the Calcutta ‘paara’. And obviously the Maradona cards were the most requested. If someone had more cards than the same player, he would be traded for others. Not so with Maradona cards. Even though you had ten, you kept them all. This was (to many) the ‘God of Football’, after all.
Maradona had, almost single-handedly, led Argentina to the title in the previous 1986 edition in Mexico and millions in Argentina and around the world turned to the original ‘little wizard’ to weave his magic once again in Italy.
And he did it, taking Albiceleste to the final. But waiting for them were West Germans once again (Argentina beat West Germany in the 1986 final). It was a fiercely fought contest, but in the end heartbreak was in store for Maradona and Argentina, thanks to a late goal from the West Germans.
Andreas Brehme is a name that no Argentinian fan would want to remember. The left-back scored the only goal of the game from an 85th-minute penalty in front of over 73,000 spectators at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, taking West Germany to the biggest trophy in world football.
The Argentinian goalkeeper – Sergio Goycochea – was one of the best of that season, especially when it came to rejecting penalties. He played an important role in securing Argentina’s Italia ’90 final, denying the Brazilians a goal in the round of 16 and then holding back penalty shoot-outs in the quarter-finals and semi-finals against Yugoslavia and Italy respectively . Interestingly, Goycochea was the second choice goalkeeper for Argentina and only got a chance for him when first choice Nery Pumpido broke his leg in the second round match against the USSR.
File pic – Sergio Goycochea (Twitter photo)
Goycochea was destined to play in that World Cup. But he wasn’t meant to block that kick from Brehme.
It just wasn’t in the stars for Argentina, who became the first defending champion to reach the final and lose. It was also the first time that a European team beat a South American team in the World Cup final. Maradona has never won another World Cup and so does Argentina’s wait for the holy grail of world football.
Looking back, perhaps the only silver lining for Argentina’s fans was the fact that their fierce continental rivals Brazil could not clinch the 1990 title either and that they were responsible for the boys’ exit of Samba. Brazil had been eliminated by Argentina in the round of 16, thanks to a solitary goal scored by Claudio Cannigia in the 80th minute, after a brilliant dribbling by Maradona.
For Brazil, it was a loss they could not bear. They were announced as the best team of the tournament. The players themselves believed it and then lost to their arch-rivals and that too after creating far more chances than the Argentines, who pounced on the only good chance they had. Argentina at the time did not have high-profile names in defense, while Brazil had forwards such as Bebeto, Careca and Romario, among others.
Now, you have to understand that for teams like Brazil and Argentina and some of the other traditional football powerhouses, a knockout exit isn’t just a failure, it’s a disaster. And when that happens through a loss to a team considered to be their closest rival, it shakes the whole system.
Years later, Brazilian goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel, who is currently the goalkeeping coach of the Brazil national team and Liverpool FC, told FIFA in an interview: “Every player who was in that team keeps talking about the 1990 World Cup … We were, from 1 to 11, the top team in that tournament.
Former Brazilian midfielder Paulo Silas told FIFA: “…in the 1990 match there was just that Maradona run and practically nothing else. The Seleção were by far the better team… The Seleção stood beaten in that World Cup”.
According to many former Brazilian players, including some who were part of the 1990 ‘disaster’, the shockwaves that were sent through the Brazilian football system after that, and the resulting changes, are what brought to the triumph of the title in 1994.
Brazil have not won the World Cup since 2002. Argentina’s wait for World Cup glory is obviously much longer. The last time they won the Cup was in 1986, 36 years ago.
Now, as things stand now, a Brazil-Argentina semifinal The clash is very likely in Qatar. Selecao will face Croatia in the quarter-finals, while Albiceleste will face the Netherlands.
They are the last two South American teams remaining in the fray at Qatar 2022 and share the same goal: to win the Cup and end Europe’s hegemony. Brazil was the last South American team to win the World Cup, 20 years ago, in 2002.
Imagine a semi-final between Brazil and Argentina at the World Cup – it could easily break a record or two in attendance.
Argentina won the 2021 Copa America Final, beating Brazil 1-0. The biancoceleste jerseys ended a 28-year wait for the title and Lionel Messi won his first major international trophy in what was his tenth major tournament. They have bragging rights.
The ongoing World Cup in Qatar will likely be Messi’s last appearance at the highlight event and just as the Indian cricket team wanted to win the 2011 ODI World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar, Messi’s teammates want to do it for him this time in Qatar.
Neymar and Lionel Messi
But standing in their way might be Neymar and his band of merry men, who are catching on at just the right time. Brazil’s 4-1 win against South Korea in the round of 16 was perhaps their best performance so far, both offensively and defensively.
At the World Cup, Brazil and Argentina have only met four times. And they haven’t faced each other in this tournament since that round of 16 match Argentina won way back in 1990.
There will be no final between Argentina and Brazil in Qatar. But should the dream semi-final come true, it will be the most important match of this World Cup.
And it will be one for the romantics.