RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) ― For Brazilians, not winning the World Cup would be bad enough.
Even worse would be rival Argentina winning in Brazil where 200 million locals are expecting to celebrate.
“This would be every Brazilians worst nightmare,” said Newton Cesar Santos, the Brazilian author of a 600-page history of the Brazil-Argentina rivalry ― Brazil X Argentina: Stories of the Biggest Classic in World Football.
“Let anybody win, but not Argentina.”
There are many intense soccer matchups: Netherlands vs. Germany and England vs. Scotland. But none rivals Brazil vs. Argentina.
Some of Brazil’s national self-esteem rests on being the world’s lone soccer superpower. It’s the only country to have played in every World Cup and won the most titles ― five. The South Americans set the standard for flair, and 73-year-old Pele remains the game’s most famous brand.
It wasn’t always this way.
In the early history of soccer, it was Argentina that was the power in South America.
The game arrived there before it did in Brazil. But that changed when Brazil won the 1958 World Cup, long before Argentina won its first of two ― and a highly disputed victory, at that ― 20 years later.
“Argentina was always much more developed than Brazil,” Santos said. “They had industry. They had everything first. As a country, we admitted we were a kind of second-class country compared to Argentina.”
Brazil has Pele, Argentina has Maradona and the debate about who is better never ends.
The records? It depends whose record.
The Argentine Football Association and the Brazilian Football Confederation have slightly different results. Santos has kept his own record.
“Brazil and Argentina records disagree about what is an official match or not,” Santos said. “Of course, each has a record that favors its national team.”
Santos calculates that from more than 99 matches, Brazil has won two more.
Santos says the first official match was Sept. 27, 1914, in Buenos Aires, which Brazil won 1-0.
Argentina fielded its first national team in 1902, according to Santos, 12 years ahead of Brazil.
“Amazingly, people have not paid that much attention to the numbers,” Santos said. “Everyone knows it’s very even.”
Santos says there is a sector of Brazilian society hoping for Brazil to lose in the World Cup.