The Original Clasico | El clasico del Rio de la Plata

With only a couple of days to go for the oldest rivalry in the continent, Indranath Mukherjee puts pen for this eternal saga. Our number four on the Immortal Copa Series, here at Goalden Times, it’s Argentina vs Uruguay. You can read the other stories of the Copa America series here

Unlike the 2014 FIFA World Cup when I was in Brazil for the tournament, during the first half of the 2010 FIFA World Cup I had to be in US for an official assignment. Pubs and sports bar were opening in New York City from 7:00 AM to screen the early games and people were gathering in numbers to watch the matches. The sale of mimosa in pubs in NYC and Chicago had reached a record high in the month of June in 2010. I had decided to watch the early kick off between Argentina and South Korea at a pub in Manhattan. I distinctly remember a notice board in front of a pub which read: “We are not open in the morning. Argentina fans can watch the game at home”. Later I enquired about the pub and it was not at all surprising to me that it was a Uruguayan pub.
The rivalry between Argentina and Uruguay is one of the earliest and most intense in the annals of football rivalries and it extends well beyond football at times.  However, I will restrict myself to just football in this piece. A brief history of football will tell you that even after being set up it took more than quarter of a century for FIFA to decide that they would be the highest governing authority of world football. FIFA and International Olympic Committee were often at loggerheads on this issue for almost three decades. While football in Olympics was only for amateurs, many countries were adapting to professionalism in football post the First World War. The Uruguay national team that won the Olympic gold in Paris in 1924 looked almost ‘professional’ with players like José Nasazzi, Pedro Arispe, Santos Urdinarán and José Andrad in the team. In the following Olympic in Amsterdam in 1928, Uruguay emerged triumphant again and this time they beat Argentina in the final. The Argentina team also had some big names like Luis Monti, Manuel Ferreira and Juan Evaristo.

Diego Maradona and Enzo Francescoli before a game in Copa America Brazil ,1989
Diego Maradona and Enzo Francescoli before a game in Copa America Brazil ,1989

The rivalry is age old and fierce, often ending up in ugly consequences, and hence has a number of anecdotes associated with it. The rivalry arose owing to the geographic proximity of the countries, richness of history, indistinguishable cultures and a common language -Spanish. The match between the two sides was the original clasico which is also referred as the battle of the Río de la Plata or the battle of the River Plate. This is the most-played international match in world football. They first officially met on  July 20, 1902 and it was also the first international match outside the British Isles. Argentina registered a thumping 0-6 win in Montevideo. There have been occasions when the two teams played two matches on the same day, one in Buenos Aires and one in Montevideo. During this time, most of the players in both the teams were actually English men. With time, Argentines and Uruguayans of Spanish, Italian and native decent fell in love with the beautiful game, imprinting on it their own style with subtle differences on either shore.
The Uruguayans became famous for “garra charrua“, a fighting spirit associated with  the native Charrua tribe that ruled the land before the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese colonialists. This has indeed influence how we see Uruguay play their football, a more rugged game graced by occasional silkiness of a Enzo Francencoli or Luis Suarez.

The Uruguayans became famous for “garra charrua“, a fighting spirit associated with  the native Charrua tribe that ruled the land before the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese colonialists.

The Argentines, on the other hand, had more of a penchant for a short-passing, attacking game – “la nuestra” – simply “ours”. Thus the world has seen more graceful and adroit Argentines with masters like Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi running the show coupled with the occasional ruthlessness of a Antonio Rattin or a Diego Simeone.
Uruguay, a tiny nation in comparison to its neighbours, are ridiculed by the rival fans with the name of “un barrio de Buenos Aires“ ( – a neighborhood of Buenos Aires) as the population of the Argentine capital is more than four times that of the whole Uruguay. But on a green pitch these numbers hardly count for a thing.
Statistically, out of the 180 official matches between these two arch-rivals, Argentina have won 84 of them while Uruguay have won 55 and 41 matches have ended in draws. Taking only Copa into consideration, both sides have 13 wins each and there has been 4 occasions when they were inseparable.
My first experience of the rivalry was in the 1986 FIFA World cup in Mexico, when Argentina went past Uruguay thanks to a solitary goal by Pedro Pablo Pasculli. Though it was Pasculli, currently manager of Serie D side Cittanova, whose goal made the difference ,the most memorable part of the game was the contest between Diego “Armando” Maradona and Peñarol defender Eliseo Roque Rivero.

The first FIFA World Cup in 1930 saw the same two sides play for the championship and Uruguay won again but not without the drama. Both the teams wanted to play with the ball made in their own country. Since in those days the ball was made of hard Tiento, with rectangular panels and outer stitching, it required some getting used to before the teams could play properly. Referee John Langenus of Belgium solved the problem with coin-toss. Argentina played the 1st half with “their” ball, leading 2-1 at halftime. Uruguay used “their” ball in the 2nd half, scoring 3 goals to win it 4-2, including the famous 89th minute goal by Hector Castro.

The two balls used in the 1930 FIFA World Cup Final match between Argentina and Uruguay

Hector Castro was also the scorer of the first ever goal in a World Cup for Uruguay against Peru at Estadio Centenario. Nicknamed El Manco for accidentally amputating his right arm at the age of 13, Castro’s footballing career also included the 1928 Olympic gold medal. He also won three Uruguayan championships in 1924, 1933 and 1934 for Nacional. El Manco also won the South American Championship (now Copa) for Uruguay in 1926 and 1935 before retiring in 1936. El Manco will remain a key character in the history of the Argentina-Uruguay rivalry.
The 1930 FIFA World Cup final in some ways sowed the seeds of a fierce rivalry. The match was already a rough affair with bad challenges, hard tackles and lots of injuries part of it. And this was at a time when substitution was not a concept in football. To make matters worse, the crowd, predominantly Uruguayan, harassed the Argentine players throughout the game so much so that many marquee players were afraid to play to the best of their ability. As retribution, Argentine fans attacked the Uruguayan consulate.  The whole of South America suffered from the far reaching impacts as both team declined to play the Copa America. Finally, in 1935 both the federations subsided.
In the first 20 years of Copa America, known as the South American Championship until 1967, it was mostly an affair between Uruguay and Argentina with the former clearly emerging as the superior of the two.


Overall Uruguay and Argentina have been the two most dominating teams in the annals of Copa America, the oldest active international football competition, with Uruguay marginally ahead being 15 times winners while Argentina won it 14 times. Brazil is a distant third with 8 championships against their name. Argentina however has 12 runners-up titles while Uruguay has only 6. Brazil has been runners-up 11 times.
Although Uruguay’s dominance in the early years of the rivalry had been well matched by Argentina’s response in the later years, the last time Argentina beat Uruguay in Copa was back in 2004 in Peru. Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and Ecuador were drawn together in group B and Argentina beat Uruguay 4 goals to 2. Uruguay took the lead in 7th minute courtesy of a stunning volley from the corner of the box by Fabian Estoyanoff but Argentina equalized in 19th minute from the spot through Kily Gonzalez and then took the lead in the next minute when Luciano Figueroa made the most of the goalkeeping mistake by Sebastian Viera. With time, the match got more intense and physical and Uruguayan defender Joe Bizera got a red card to bring his team down to 10 men. But Uruguay responded in style with another brilliant strike from Vicente Sanchez in the 38th and the first half ended with 2 goals each. In the second half Marcelo Bielsa’s Argentina made use of the extra man and started dominating the game. Roberto Ayala headed from corner in the 80th minute to give the lead back to Argentina and Figueroa completed his brace in the 89th minute to seal the game for the Albicelestes.
Argentina and Uruguay were drawn in the same group in the 1999 Copa in Paraguay as well. Argentina also won the group league tie then by 2-0 with Kily Gonzalez scoring in the first minute when everyone was expecting Juan Roman Riquelme to take the free-kick while he gave a false run and in the way just did a back-heel and Killy struck low to the goal. Martin Palermo added the second in the 56th minute. Even though the score line may suggest otherwise, the match was extremely intense and towards the end became very rough and the Argentine right-back Nelson Vivas was given marching order in 73rd minute the by the Japanese referee Masayoshi Okada.
Last time the two teams met in Copa was in Argentina,2011, at the quarter-final stage. Diego Perez scored for Uruguay in the 5th minute of the match but Gonzalo Higuain’s strike in the 17th minute cancelled Uruguay’s lead. It was another ill-tempered match with both sides finishing the match with 10 men. Defensive midfielder Diego Perez picked up his first yellow just three minutes before scoring, although he probably should have seen a straight red. He picked his second around the closing minutes of the first half and his Argentine counterpart Javier Mascherano picked up his red in the second half. Playing most part of the game with 10 men, Uruguay still held Argentina to a 1-1 draw thanks to their goalkeeper Fernando Muslera who made crucial saves on free-kicks taken by Messi and Carlos Tevez and Higuain’s rebound shot off Tevez’s free-kick.
In the tie-breaker, Muslera stopped Tevez’s shot and Uruguay reached the semi-final with a perfect penalty shootout record, scoring 5 out of 5. Tevez, who was omitted by Alejandro Sabella for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, had a particularly bad Copa in 2011. He started the tournament as a first choice striker but Argentina failed to win their first two matches. Sergio Aguero, who came off the bench to salvage a draw in the first match, started in the third game ahead of Tevez and responded with a brace to hand Argentina a 3-0 win. Naturally he was preferred over Tevez in the quarter-final, but unfortunately had to leave the field late in regulation time. He would have taken the spot kick eventually but Tevez rounded off his personal nightmare by scuffing the spot kick. He has been included back in the squad for Copa in Chile by Tata Martino but probably would not feature in his first XI.

Tevez missed the crucial spot-kick in penalty shootout in Copa America 2011
Tevez missed the crucial spot-kick in penalty shootout in Copa America 2011

The victory was as sweet as it can be for Uruguay – defeating their arch rivals in their own backyard and then eventually going on to win the Copa and going one over on trophy count; they were tied with 14 titles each before the competition. Uruguay beat Peru 2 goals to 0 in the semi-final thanks to a brace from Luis Suarez and then went on to win the final against Paraguay with a goal from Luisito and a brace from the veteran Diego Forlan. Paraguay finished runners-up without actually winning a single game in tournament in the stipulated 90 minutes.
This year, Argentina and Uruguay have been drawn together in the group B along with Paraguay and Jamaica. Argentina will go with lot more confidence after making it to the FIFA World Cup final in Brazil last year. Their captain, the talismanic Lionel Messi, has been in great form for Barcelona this season. One of his partners in the Barcelona upfront and player of the Copa 2011, Luis Suarez is likely to miss the Copa because of his suspension for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. Uruguayan Footballers’ Union (MUFP), however, is planning to appeal against the ban in the wake of FIFA’s crisis. They announced on their official twitter account :”If Luis Suarez is in agreement, we will ask for the end of the suspension… due to [the player] having been suspended by an organ suspected of corruption.”
Although the intensity of the original clasico has mellowed down to a large extent, when the two sides will meet each other on 16th June at Estadio La Portada, there will be no dearth of excitement and we will see how the battle of Río de la Plata unfolds.