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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 July, 2005, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Rivals braced for triple showdown
By Tim Vickery

Sao Paulo fans climb over a fence during the recent match with River Plate
Sao Paulo fans during last week's game against River Plate

In the next few days there is a triple dose of one of football's oldest and most important rivalries.

On Tuesday in the Netherlands, Argentina and Brazil meet in the semi-finals of the World Youth Cup.

On Wednesday night in Buenos Aires the scenario switches to club level.

River Plate, 2-0 down from the first leg, take on Sao Paulo for a place in the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League.

And in between the senior sides meet in Germany at the final of the Confederations Cup.

Recent scenes at Sao Paulo's Morumbi stadium reveal the depth of the rivalry.

At the end of 2003 Sao Paulo met River in the South American Cup.

The tie went to penalties, but Sao Paulo's then-star striker Luis Fabiano was not around to take one.

Shortly before the final whistle he was sent off for aiming a kung-fu kick at an opponent, and stalked off the field saying that he would rather attack an Argentine than take a penalty.

Then this year there was the racism scandal, when Sao Paulo were hosting Quilmes of Argentina.

Visiting defender Desabato was arrested and held for days after abusing Sao Paulo striker Grafite.

And in last Wednesday's semi-final first leg, the River Plate team coach was stoned by Sao Paulo supporters, while inside the stadium River fans fought battles with the local police.

Fearing revenge attacks Sao Paulo have understandably stepped up their security precautions for the return match.

This roll call of shameful incidents might seem to indicate that Brazil against Argentina is a war between two countries who hate each other.

Thankfully, such a view is a massive exaggeration.

It is true that South America's two most prominent nations have a diplomatic relationship which can occasionally be strained.

But the Argentine middle class visit Brazil and love the sunshine, the beaches and the tropical atmosphere.

The Brazilian middle class visit Argentina and marvel at the European feel of Buenos Aires and the freedom - all too rare nowadays in a big Brazilian city - of being able to wander around without as much fear of crime.

The vast majority of the population of both countries have never travelled.

Most Brazilians have never even met an Argentine, and vice versa.

There are no military grievances - the armed forces of Argentina and Brazil have been much more likely to launch their violence against their own people than their neighbours.

Sao Paulo supporters smashed the River Plate coach during a Cope Libertadores match
The River Plate coach was vandalised

The antagonism between these two countries, then, is essentially a football rivalry.

This is not to minimize the conflict. In both Brazil and Argentina football is the most important source of national self-esteem.

The game has brought international triumphs and recognition to a region starved of both.

To their respective peoples Pelé and Maradona are a mixture of Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill, Paul McCartney and David Beckham.

Powerful forces, then, are in play this week - once on Tuesday and twice on Wednesday.

Once the final whistle is blown, though, there should be no reason for hostilities to continue.

At Barcelona, for example, Brazil's Ronaldinho treats Lionel Messi, the star of Argentina's Under-20 team, with fraternal affection - a splendid symbol for a region which is seeking more economic and political integration.


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