Copa America 2021: Hand of the devil, holy water and other battles in epic Brazil vs Argentina football rivalry

Brazil vs Argentina in the final of the Copa America is one of the marquee clashes in football and one where there will be tremendous intensity.

Lionel Messi and Neymar for Argentina and Brazil, Image credit: Twitter
By Siddharth vishwanathan | Jul 8, 2021 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

The dream clash of Copa America 2021 is finally here. It is a blessing for football fans that it is happening in the summit clash. Argentina vs Brazil is one of the greatest clashes when it comes to football. Both countries have a tremendous history. They have produced legends, are world cup winners and have produced superstars that have changed the sport forever.

Brazil vs Argentina also has a cultural edge not just in Copa America 2021. Argentina is one of the Spanish powerhouses in South America. Brazil is the only Portuguese country in the region and that often adds a race, cultural effect on matches. In the past, there was the legendary match-up between Pele and Maradona. Now, the match-up is between Lionel Messi and Neymar. There are plenty of instances that have colored the contest between Brazil and Argentina

Brazil, Argentina’s varied dominance

Both Brazil and Argentina have been playing football against each other for 107 years. The rivalry has withstood two world wars, economic depressions, military coups and coronavirus. From their first encounter in 1914 to their upcoming summit clash on July 11, 2021, Brazil and Argentina are all set to add a new chapter in their famous rivalry.

Brazil holds a slight edge in head-to-head encounters against Argentina. The five-time world champions have won 43 as compared to the two-time champion Argentina’s 39. In FIFA World Cups, Brazil has the edge with 2-1. However, when it comes to Copa America, Argentina holds an edge with 15-10. Argentina has won more Copa America titles than Brazil, with 14 going to La Albiceleste and nine to the Selecao.

The 100-plus year history of Brazil and Argentina in football

Not only have they played over 100 games against each other, but there is also a big list of incidents in these matches. Some of these incidents are controversial, racist and have forever changed the dynamics of the rivalry between these two nations.

In 1925, a controversial foul saw punches being exchanged between Argentine and Brazilian players. This led to a pitch invasion at the Sportico Barracas stadium in Buenos Aires. The game was suspended and only resumed – without a sending-off – after a hug between Arthur Friedenreich and Ramon Muttis, the two players involved in the punch-up. However, Brazil would not play Argentina for 11 years. The incident in the local media was dubbed the ‘Barracas War.’

In 1937, the Brazilian players were taunted with racist monkey chants. When an Argentina player scored a controversial goal, the Brazilians decided not to question the goal. Instead, they left the stadium altogether. The pattern would be repeated in 1939, this time it was Argentina. Brazil managed to get a penalty but one of the Argentina players, Arcadio Lopez, verbally abused the referee. The police had to come in and escort Lopez out. However, the Argentina team was furious and the pitch. Brazil managed to take the penalty, but the entire Argentina team and keeper were off the pitch.

Modern day controversies

The epic duels between Brazil and Argentina gained intensity in the modern age. In the 1978 World Cup, Brazil and Argentina were in with a chance to qualify for the playoffs. In their encounter, both Brazil and Argentina played out a goalless draw. But, in the last league games, there was controversy.

Argentina had to win by four clear goals to knock Brazil out. In Argentina’s last game against Peru, they thrashed them 6-0 but the manner of Peru’s defeat was suspicious. The Peruvian goalkeeper, Ramon Quiroga, was born in Argentina and many believed he wanted them to go through. Brazil were knocked out, despite the fact that they never lost a game in 1978.

In the 1982 World Cup, Brazil beat Argentina 3-1 and Maradona got a straight red card after kicking one Brazilian player. But, the zenith of the controversy was reached in 1990. Argentina was leading 1-0 against Brazil but towards the end, there was controversy. Brazilian player Branco accusing the Argentina training staff of giving him a bottle of water laced with tranquilizers while they were tending to an injured player. Years later, Maradona admitted the truth on an Argentine television show, saying that Branco had been given “holy water”. The Argentine Football Association and the team coach of the time, Carlos Bilardo, denied that the “holy water” incident ever took place, though prior to the previous denial Bilardo did not initially deny Branco’s allegation.

The hand of the devil controversy

In 1986, Maradona immortalized himself when he scored the ‘Hand of God’ goal against England which divided experts for ages. Now, in a Brazil vs Argentina clash, there was the ‘hand of the devil.’

In the 1995 Copa America clash, Brazilian Tulio became famous for scoring a late equalizer five minutes from time after controlling the ball with his left arm. Despite the obvious foul, the referee, Alberto Tejada Noriega of Peru, claimed he did not see the incident. The goal therefore stood. The game finished with a 2-2 draw and Brazil went on to win on penalties. The Argentine media labeled the incident as the “hand of the devil”.

In the Olympics, Argentina has won two consecutive gold medals and they can be proud of that record. However, Brazil showed their neighbors that they mean business when they won the gold in 2016 by beating Germany on penalties in front of their home fans. It was sweet revenge for their humiliating 1-7 loss to Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

In 2019, Brazil won a controversial semifinal against Argentina as they advanced to the final. After the match, Lionel Messi raised questions on the poor refereeing and questioned the corruption in CONMEBOL. Messi was handed a four-match ban.

When these two teams clash on July 11, the Brazil vs Argentina chapter will further enrich the history pages of football in a grand manner.