Fans’ rivalries at the World Cup – A look at some great football rivalries on and off the pitch

Photo Credit: AP

The 2022 FIFA World Cup brings together the global elite of footballing nations. With a look ahead to the Qatar football fest coming up later in the year, some rivalries could be renewed. Some great World Cup rivalries are simply from countries being neighbours. Think Brazil v Argentina or Germany v Netherlands. But sometimes it is not even physical borders that create rivalries. England v Germany and England v Argentina fall under that bracket, for example. Football rivalries are not only created out of the locality but out of past events.

History speaks loud

When a set of supporters feel that they have perhaps been wronged by a team before, then it can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. A perfect example is Uruguay v Ghana from the 2010 World Cup, with the aggrieved African nation denied a match-winning goal by a deliberate Luis Suárez handball. Ghanian fans won’t forget something like that and will relish having a chance at getting at the South Americans again.

How many German supporters still think back to England’s ghost goal in the 1966 Final? Or in turn, how aggrieved England fans were at Maradona’s “Hand Of Goal” in 1984? What great rivalry moments will gain headlines in 2022 World Cup football news?

World Cup rivalries create fantastic atmospheres

It’s the rivalries between sets of supporters that help create the real buzz at World Cup matches. When fans look to settle old scores by watching their team saunter to a win on the pitch, it ramps up the atmosphere. The patriotic passion that gets expressed during the FIFA World Cup is one of the great aspects of the tournament. When the cameras pan around the crowd and the emotions ranging from elation to despair are clearly captured, it is engrossing viewing. Sometimes the support fills city centres, such as seen at Leicester square during Euro 2022 when England football fans packed the streets.

Here we take a look at some of the great FIFA Word Cup rivalries.

Brazil vs Argentina

Is there a bigger rivalry than the one between CONMEBOL giants Brazil and Argentina? Probably not one as fierce. Brazil are the most successful nation in the history of the FIFA World Cup, having lifted the title five times before in their history. That alone is going to make most other nations feel a little like they are living in the shadow of the Selecao. It has to be worse when it is, in Argentina’s case, watching a neighbour being so successful.

Argentina have not been without their success as they have won the FIFA World Cup twice. Just thinking about some of the greatest ever World Cup players and it is easy to immediately go to the likes of Pele, Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona, Neymar and Lionel Messi. But this one is a bitter World Cup rivalry.

South American World Cup controversies

The first World Cup meeting between Argentina and Brazil was in 1974, a match won 2-1 by Brazil. Four years later there was a brutal battle between the two nations, which ended in a 0-0 draw in the second group stage. Controversy followed. Argentina then won their final group match 6-0 against Peru. It was a match they had to win by four clear goals to beat Brazil to the top spot. Unsubstantiated claims were that Peru had potentially been enticed to roll over in the match. The fact that they had a goalkeeper born in Argentina helped fuel that fire.

At the 1982 World Cup, the two met again in the second group stage. Brazil eclipsed Argentina 3-1 with some ease. But it was another ill-tempered match with Diego Maradona getting a red card for kicking an opponent.

More controversy followed between the rivals at the 1990 World Cup. Argentina won the match 1-0. However, while the Argentina training staff were on the pitch treating a player, Brazil’s Branco was handed a bottle of water by one of them. He then had to leave the pitch feeling dizzy and ill. The accusations were that it had been tainted by tranquillisers. Argentinian legend Maradona confirmed it, but it has been denied by the Argentine Football Association.

England v Argentina

Tensions were already high between Argentina and England due to the 1982 Falklands war between the two nations. So that sort of set the stage for rival fans when the two of them came together in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals. The match produced one of the most infamously controversial moments in World Cup history. It also produced one of the greatest ever goals and both incidents crushed England football fans. It’s easy to understand the huge fans’ rivalry on the back of the match in question.

With the game level, Diego Maradona punched the ball into the England net with his hand, after challenging keeper Peter Shilton in the air. It was simply as controversial as it sounds. While thousands of England fans in the stadium at the 1986 FIFA World Cup match in Mexico, plus people watching at home all saw the incident, the match referee didn’t. The goal was allowed to stand.

Maradona himself described it as being scored by “a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God”. Maradona also said that it was symbolic revenge over England for the Falklands War. Minutes after the controversial goal, Maradona produced the Goal of the Century, running from his own half, beating numerous England defenders before rounding Shilton to slot the ball home.

Prior history in the World Cup

It’s worth noting that during their run to the 1966 World Cup title, England aggravated Argentina. Geoff Hurst scored the only goal of a game against them in the Quarter Finals. The Albiceleste fiercely claimed that the goal was offside. Their captain Antonio Rattín also had to be escorted from the pitch by police after receiving a second yellow card.

At the 1998 World Cup, England were beaten 4-3 in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals by Argentina. After a stunning goal by Michael Owen early in the match to give England the lead, it fell apart when Manchester United’s Premier League star David Beckham saw red. After getting fouled by Diego Simeone, the Argentine player rubbed his knuckles on the back of Beckham’s head. Beckham in turn, still on the floor kicked out at Simeone who dramatically fell over, and Beckham saw red.

Germany v The Netherlands

Although it may not receive the big attention the likes of the aforementioned World Cup rivalries do, Germany v Netherlands is a huge one for fan rivalry. It has a history that goes back to WWII when the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans.

On the pitch, the first meeting between the two nations in a competitive fixture happened in the 1974 World Cup final. The Oranje at the time were blessed with astounding talent. None was bigger than the Johan Cruyff. The Netherlands had redefined the way that the game was played. They introduced the flair and attacking sensibilities that really hadn’t been seen before, certainly not by European nations.

But the Netherlands were left heartbroken in the 1974 World Cup final as they lost to West Germany 2-1 in Munich. It is one of three World Cup Finals that the Netherlands have lost, the title proving to be elusive to them. The 1990 World Cup clash between the two nations was an unpleasant one, ramping up the rivalry. Germany’s Rudi Völler and the Netherlands’ Frank Rijkaard (who had spat at the former) were both sent off for squaring up to each other in the Round of 16 fixture which West Germany won 2-1.

Spain v Portugal

The Iberian War, a football rivalry between Spain and Portugal is another one to watch out for. There is a lot of history between the two neighbouring nations, both politically and on the pitch. It is one of football’s international rivalries that’s seen as being more competitive than acrimonious, unlike some of the others we have mentioned.

This rivalry started back in the early 1920s when Spain hammered the Portuguese 7-1 in Madrid. Spain holds the upper hand only in the head-to-head from previous matches with Portugal. The neighbouring nations met in a 2010 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match that was won 1-0 by Spain in Cape Town, South Africa. David Villa scored the only goal of the game in that Iberian derby. Spain went on to win the World Cup for the first time in their history.

Spain and Portugal would meet four years later in the 2018 World Cup Group Stage. It was a stunning match as well, with both trading heavy blows in attack. Cristiano Ronaldo, at the time a La Liga star with Real Madrid, netted a spot kick in the 4th minute for Portugal. Spain equalised through Diego Costa. Ronaldo then put Portugal ahead before Spain found another response through Costa. After Spain had taken the lead in the second half, Ronaldo completed his hat trick two minutes from time and the match ended in a stunning 3-3 draw.

Wales v England

One confirmed match that will spark an old rivalry between fans at the 2022 World Cup comes from Group B. England, who are odds-on group winner favourites, meet neighbours Wales. The Welsh will take part in just their second World Cup. Their one previous appearance came in 1958.

This isn’t one of the major football rivalries in the modern game perhaps, but it is an enticing fixture nonetheless. Meetings between England and Wales used to be a very common affair on the calendar. But with Wales struggling to take their place in major international tournaments, meetings have been fewer and far between. The old rivalry was sparked up fairly recently, however. The two were drawn together in the group stage of Euro 2016. England football fans cheered a late winner in stoppage time through Daniel Sturridge after Gareth Bale had opened the scoring for Wales.