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This story is part of Only A Game’s “Rivalry Show” which looked at stories of rivalries in sports.
First held in Argentina in 1916, the Copa America is the oldest international soccer tournament in the world. As Monday's semifinal between Peru and Chile will likely prove, the rivalries between the tournament's South American teams go beyond sport into the realms of politics, economics, and culture.
Peruvians In Chile, The Historic Rivalry
I think soccer is the ultimate representation of this historic rivalry because there isn’t a stronger or more direct confrontation.Boris Mercado Mar, Peruvian Soccer Fan
Despite it being Chile’s historic square, nearly 100 Peruvian immigrants gathered in Santiago’s Plaza de Armas to show support for their team playing against Brazil in the Copa America. Red noisemaker in hand, Joiis Solano Cuba took part in the festivities. Cuba moved here to find a job nearly two years ago. He says living in Chile as a Peruvian soccer fan comes at a price.
"We’re different because if we go out with our jerseys on," Cuba said in Spanish." They look at us, and they look at us, and they look at us, like trying to intimidate us, like we’re an oddball. But if a Colombian, an Ecuadorian, an African, or from whatever country, goes out, for them it’s normal. It’s us, the Peruvians, that shouldn’t be here."
Peru and Chile have a complicated past. Much of the rivalry stems from the War of the Pacific, which started in 1879 and ended with Peru losing mineral-rich southern territories to Chile.
"It’s always called, whenever Peru and Chile play, they call it the Pacific Classic because of the War of the Pacific," said Luis Vargas in Spanish.
Vargas has lived in Chile for eight years, though he still continues to follow and support Peruvian soccer. He says in addition to the war, Peru and Chile also have an ongoing cultural rivalry — a particularly sour one.
"Well, to start with, pisco sour... if it’s Chilean [or] if it’s Peruvian," Vargas said.
The famous lime-flavored cocktail is claimed by both countries as their own. Which country invented the cocktail and who makes it better is a common source of disagreement. Peru resident and soccer fan Boris Mercado Mar says the soccer field is where these long-standing rivalries play out.
"I think soccer is the ultimate representation of this historic rivalry," said Mar. "Because there isn’t a stronger or more direct confrontation. It’s a way to mollify this, this, this feeling."
Chile: Frustrated And In The Middle
But the War of the Pacific isn’t front of mind for everyone in this country. We met up with Chile fans at the Chilean National Stadium in Santiago for their team’s game against Bolivia to ask who they think their biggest rival is. For many, like Deborah Rosenblatt, there’s no contest.
"Argentina, by far," said Rosenblatt. "More than Brazil because we’re neighbors, and we have a political history as well. So it’s not only about futbol, it’s about everything."
"Luckily, God made the Andes to separate us from them," said Luis O'Nell, a celebrated Chilean sports author and journalist.
He first began covering soccer by jumping out on the field to interview players at age 10. In his sixties now, O’Nell has yet to see Chile win the Copa America tournament. In fact, the team has never won the title. Though they have come close.
"There are games that define a generation," O'Nell said. "For example, the final game of the Copa America in 1955 in Santiago."
On that day, Chile would have to beat Argentina for the title. Nearly 20,000 fans were swarming at the stadium entrance, desperate to get in to see the game. At one point part of the fence broke and fans started pouring into the stadium, causing a stampede. Seven people died.
"Chile had the opportunity to be the champion for the first time and beat Argentina. But the logical thing happened and Argentina won, 1-0."
And a loss against Argentina packs an extra punch. O’Nell says that Chileans have always looked up to Argentinians culturally, even going as far as imitating their accents. He says Argentines have prettier women, are better at soccer, and historically have been a bigger and more powerful country. All that adds up to a lot of envy and resentment.
"The whole world finds Argentines unlikable, not just Chileans. The Peruvians aren’t big fans of them either, neither are the Ecuadorians, and the Brazilians, don’t even get me started."
Sebastian Perez-Ferreiro is an Argentine journalist living in Chile. The rivalry hits close to home for him.
"My wife is Chilean and we lived in New York for 12 years," Perez said. "And I remember the first time that we went to see an Argentina-Chile match, and it was a qualifier match, and we went to a restaurant where there were Argentine fans and Chilean fans watching the game together."
"And Argentina won that match 4-0 or 4-1, and I was just watching and not saying much, but even so my wife - I don’t think she spoke to me the rest of the day."
Argentina: The Team Everyone Loves To Hate
Like the New York Yankees or the New England Patriots, Argentina seems to be the Latin American team everybody loves to hate.
"Perhaps it’s the only country in South America that every time they play a European side, the Colombians, the Uruguayans, everybody else might actually be cheering for the Europeans rather than the Argentines," said Perez. "But you would have to ask them why. They actually did a poll during the World Cup where I think Argentina was picked as the team that most fans wanted to see lose."
Despite their reputation among South American soccer fans, Argentines have just one country on their mind when it comes to rivals.
Argentina vs. Brazil
“Within Latin America, without a doubt it’s Brazil," said Ramiro Anastasi. "I can’t think of another team in Latin America - Chile, never, ever.”
Anastasi is an Argentine who moved to Chile a few years ago. He says that the rivalry today with Brazil is related purely to soccer. And with that rivalry comes something else.
"There’s also admiration, admiration for what the other team has," he said. "It’s a rivalry, but a rivalry that also contains a lot of respect.
And Argentina has a lot to respect. Both Brazil and Argentina boast multiple World Cup and Copa America titles along with arguably two of the best soccer players of all time: Argentina had Maradona. Brazil had Pele. They’ve even put this rivalry to music.
With the help of his Argentine coworker, Maria Spreafico — and a video they found on YouTube — Anastasi recalled the lyrics to Argentina’s World Cup chant. It begins with, “Brazil, tell me how it feels to be bossed around in your own home,” set to the tune of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising. Even though Argentina never even played Brazil in the World Cup, the song is dedicated to the Brazil rivalry. It concludes: “Maradona is greater than Pele”.
This segment aired on June 27, 2015.
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