RIO DE JANEIRO — When Argentina took the field for its first World Cup match against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday, the team was met with a few whistles and boos that continued even as the Argentinians trotted off 90 minutes later with a 2-1 win.
The entire scene was odd since Bosnia-Herzegovina’s fan base consisted of a handful of fans, most of which had congregated to the side of the south goal, which paled in comparison to the swarm of Argentinians that filled Maracana Stadium.
But when Bosnia-Herzegovina started playing well, cheers of “Bosnia! Bosnia!” started to rain down in Maracana from the hefty dose of Brazilian fans, many of whom had been waiting for this game to watch Argentina stars such as Messi, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria — and boo them every chance they got.
The rivalry between Argentina and Brazil soccer, affectionately called the “Battle of the South Americans,” started with their first match in 1914. The rivalry got so intense during a contest in 1946 that the teams refused to play each other for 10 years.
Then, when Brazil’s Pele and Argentina’s Maradona dominated the soccer headlines, the debate over which player was better added more fuel to the already intense matchup.
“Most Brazilians don’t like Argentina mostly because of the futbol rivalry,” Duav Torres, an avid Brazil fan, said. “I think it’s because of Maradona vs. Pele. This is the rivalry between Brazil and Argentina. I don’t see any other rivalry than that. I’m here to see Messi, Aguero and di Maria play. I’m here cheering for Brazil. I’m not here cheering for Argentina, but I’m here to see them play.”
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Torres then started to recount a story about an Argentinian fan throwing beer in his face and subsequently getting tossed from the stadium. He paused for a second: “They are more up for this rivalry than us.”
The concourse was filled with several confrontations — both good and bad — between Brazilian and Argentinian fans. One set would be taking pictures together and trading jerseys while the other would be shoving, yelling and drawing the attention of security.
When Bosnia-Herzegovina scored its goal late in the second half, the entire stadium seemingly lit up with cheers thanks to Brazilian fans who had sided with the players in the dark blue rather than those in light blue.
Several Brazilian fans likened the entire scene to the local Rio soccer rivalry between club teams Flamengo and Vasco, which also brings out the vitriol among its fans.
While the Maradona vs. Pele debate is the reason for older fans to embrace the rivalry, several younger fans didn’t know why the two countries hated each other except that it had always been that way.
“This is an old story,” Jessica Pillar said. “We don’t like them and we can’t force this. If there was an Argentinian in the stands, all the people around started chanting, “Bosnia! Bosnia!” I don’t know how I can explain, but it’s like this: When I was born this was the story and it’s always been like that; it’s just the way it is.”
We can only hope these two teams meet in the World Cup final.