World Cup: A Brazil-Argentina final could be ugly
Fan intensity could get out of hand for classic South American battle, writes Tim Vickery
Be careful what you wish for, goes the saying, lest it come true.
For months now, I have wished for and expected a Brazil-Argentina World Cup final on July 13.
Brazil-Argentina is my favourite footballing rivalry. Unlike other big ones (Netherlands-Germany, for example, or England-Argentina), there is no real military or colonial history as backdrop.
I have been inside the stadium for many Brazil-Argentina clashes – all six World Cup qualifiers played between them, two Copa America finals and for a few friendlies. These occasions have given me some of the most vivid memories of the game.
At stake, is a battle for supremacy in the global game.
Who emerges triumphant, the country of Pele or the land of Maradona? It is football in its purest state.
Rivalry could cause problems
Some might find a Brazil-Argentina final a little too much. The rivalry between the two nations has been felt all the way through this tournament. Every game Argentina plays in effect becomes a battle between their fans and Brazilians who have come along to see them lose.
It's a battle fought with songs and chants – the visiting hordes from Argentina have many – and boos and jeers from the locals. So far, it has been largely positive. It's making for a wonderful atmosphere in the stadiums.
There have, though, been occasional problems. There were flare ups in Argentina’s first match, against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Maracana. There were night time clashes between fans from the two countries in Belo Horizonte, where Argentina faced Iran. And, in Sao Paulo after Argentina’s dramatic second round win over Switzerland, there were incidents between some of their followers and the local police.
It could get worse. As the tournament builds towards a climax, the stakes get higher.
Not meeting expectations
As the quarter-final approaches, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots says that he hopes the locals in Brasilia will get behind his team and cheer for an Argentine defeat. I was in the stadium for the Argentina-Switzerland game, and felt a twinge of concern at what might happen between supporters had Lionel Messi and company been eliminated. Tension will rise still higher if Argentina make it through to the final, and their hordes of travelling fans converge on Rio once more.
Many Brazilians are aghast at the prospect of an Argentine victory – especially, of course, if it comes against their own team.
As it happens, neither side in the tournament has been anything like as convincing as I had expected. Both could fall at the quarter-final stage.
A Brazil-Argentina final is only one of a number of possible outcomes. If it doesn't happen, I might be a little disappointed. But I might also have a feeling of relief.
The 2014 World Cup does not deserve the ugly scenes that could take place between rival fans if some find the fierceness of the old rivalry a little too strong to take.