Argentina – Uruguay: the oldest tango


That was exactly 120 years ago. In Montevideo, the Uruguayan selection met their Argentinian counterpart for the first time. The football of the two countries was then still under English influence, but would quickly emancipate itself. In Buenos Aires and Montevideo, the potreros (vacant lots) constituted a space of leisure but also of construction of common references for two countries irrigated by European, Italian and Spanish immigration above all.

They had arrived by boat, and it was also by water that the two neighbors separated by the estuary of the Rio de La Plata were visiting each other. On May 16, 1901, the date of their first meeting, the Argentines left with a short victory (1-0) in their light package. This first milestone in a common history, some prefer however to place it in 1902, the previous match having been organized by Club Albion and not by the Uruguayan League.

Neighbors nevertheless enemies

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Whatever, Uruguayans and Argentines began to commune around the round ball, but also to divide. While the two countries are still fighting today over the paternity of Carlos Gardel – the master of tango – it is a body to body dance, rough and carnal, which was played in Montevideo or Buenos Aires. A fratricidal duel which was to be exported for the first time in 1919, on the occasion of the South American championship, the ancestor of the Copa América. In Brazil, Uruguay won (1-0), confirmation of the emerging domination of the paisito (small country), winner of the first two editions of the continental tournament, in 1916 and 1917.

It was already the 58th of 194 clashes between these neighbors and nevertheless enemies. A rivalry that continues, to the point that the prospect of a victory against the cousin not really distant can make you lose a certain sense of priorities. In 2009, the two neighbors met for the last qualifying match for the World Cup: a victory for Celeste qualified them directly for South Africa, but would also have eliminated Argentina. Ex-striker Sébastian Abreu recalls: « Egiven the passion and the rivalry that exists, we began to consider more the impact that Argentina’s elimination would represent, rather than focusing on our qualification« Abreu and others will lose (1-0) and will have to go through the dams to qualify.

Gonzalo Higuain (L) from Argentina vies for the ball with Diego Lugano of Uruguay during their FIFA World Cup South Africa-2010 qualifier football match at the Centenario Stadium on October 14, 2009 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Argentina won 1-0.

Credit: Getty Images

A non-reciprocity in the rivalry

Between the two countries which share the same colors (sky blue and white), we could speak of an asymmetric relationship. What summed up in an interview with the Uruguayan daily, Ovación, the ex-Argentine striker, Rubén Capria, who ended his career at Club Atlético Peñarol (Montevideo): « they want to beat us much more than we want to beat themIn the country of Diego Lugano, Argentina’s defeats in the World Cup or the Copa América can thus be celebrated, while the Argentines are rather the type to be behind their « little brother ».

For the average Argentine supporter, beating Brazil, or even Chile, remains much more vital than dominating Uruguay. This non-reciprocity in rivalry, however, is often seen in Uruguay as condescension. A certain inferiority complex can also live in the compatriots of Edinson Cavani, even if their selection remains more successful than that of their prestigious neighbor. In total, Uruguay, this piece of land wedged between the Argentinian and Brazilian giants, can claim fifteen Copa América, and Argentina « only » fourteen. Nobody says better in South America (new for the Seleçao). The Celeste also displays four stars on its jersey (its two Olympic titles, and the 1930 and 1950 World Cups), against two for the Albiceleste (1978 and 1986).

Argentina and Uruguay are two nations that count in the history of their sport. Beyond a struggle for supremacy in South America, their rivalry soon took on a global dimension. In 1928, the two neighbors thus found themselves in the final of the Olympic Games, in Amsterdam, the most prestigious tournament of the moment – the World Cup did not yet exist. As often between these two selections full of garra, the match is muscular, and after a draw (1-1), it will take another meeting to decide between them.

Uruguay wins (2-1) and thus confirms its success in 1924. Two years later, the two neighbors find themselves this time in the final of the first World Cup, at the Centenario stadium in Montevideo. The rough but technical football that is played on both banks of the Rio de la Plata confirms that it is the best in the world, and Uruguay wins again (4-2).

Edinson Cavani (Uruguay) – Lionel Messi (Argentinian)

Credit: Getty Images

A duel also of world-class players

The overall record of fratricidal clashes, however, remains largely in favor of the Albiceleste: 89 wins, 46 draws, and 59 defeats. But during choppy matches, Celeste, representative of a country with a particularly developed survival instinct when it is stuck between the Brazilian and Argentinian giants, often has the last word, as in 2011. Uruguay had then released Argentina, who nevertheless played at home, from the quarter-finals. Same case in 1987, where the Albiceleste world champion and host country failed in the semi-finals.

Maradona faced Francescoli. Because the most contested selection match in history has always opposed players of world dimension: Alvaro Recoba, Gabriel Batistuta, Juan Alberto Schiaffino, Omar Sivori, and long before them, Hector Scarone (winner of the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, and 1930 World Cup) or Guillermo Stabile (1930 World Cup top scorer). That of Saturday night will be no exception, while Messi is still chasing his first title with the Albiceleste, and the Cavani-Suarez generation aims to give a successor to their last victory, in 2011. Uruguay-Argentina, a timeless tango .

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