Brazil may not have lost 7-1 in a World Cup semifinal before, but they have struggled. They've gone out early in tournaments, they've played terribly and at times they've left their country wondering what happened to their famed Seleção. But the one thing Brazil has had for more than 20 years is superiority over Argentina.
Even when Brazil were at their weakest, they looked down at their noisy neighbors. The albiceleste could churn out all of the great players they wanted, thrash whatever other teams happened along and look destined for continental and world greatness as often as they liked, but they wouldn't beat the Seleção when it counted. They wouldn't finish ahead of their rivals.
Now, Argentina are set to change 20 years of history. And they are set to do it in Brazil's football temple while the country floods with tears.
Argentina last won a trophy in 1993, when they beat Brazil in the quarterfinals en route to being crowned champions of South America. But since then, the Seleção has won the World Cup twice and Copa America four times. They have established themselves as the most successful team in football history, and Argentina have just watched idly by.
When Brazil won the World Cup in 1994, Argentina went out in the round of 16, and in 2002 Argentina couldn't even get out of the group stage as Brazil collected their fifth title. The albiceleste didn't even make it past the quarter-finals of the Copa America in 1995, 1997 or 1999. Argentina bordered on irrelevancy, while their rivals stood on top of the world.
A revival finally came in 2004, but Brazil was there to stomp on their hearts. The two met in the Copa America final and Argentina was seconds from victory, but Adriano scored in the third minute of stoppage time and the match went to penalties, where the Seleção were flawless. Argentina were relevant again, but they weren't better than their rivals, who left them in tears.
2004 was a step, and 2007 was supposed to be the next one. Brazil had gone out of the previous year's World Cup in the quarterfinals and had since undergone a complete makeover. They ordered all of the older players out and were in transition, while Argentina had their best team in over a decade.
While Brazil couldn't even win their group at Copa America, and needs penalties to get through the semifinals, Argentina flew into the final with five wins by a combined score of 16-3. This was their year, but the final turned into a disaster. Brazil's scuttling side scored after just four minutes, then Argentina put the ball in their own net and before the powerhouse albiceleste even sorted things out, they were down 2-0. The final score would be 3-0, and Brazil were champions again, taunting their neighbors.
No matter what, Brazil came out on top. Juan Román Riquelme couldn't change that, nor could Hernán Crespo or Carlos Tevez. Even Lionel Messi couldn't do it. Argentina were good, but they weren't as good as Brazil. It was the one constant, in Brazil's good times and bad. They were better than their rivals, no matter what, and that cloud has hung over Argentina for 21 years.
That wasn't going to change this year. Not at the World Cup. Not with Neymar. Certainly not on Brazilian soil.
And yet here we stand. Brazil is already a mess, having seen Germany leave them in pieces and the Netherlands smash them into even smaller ones. If the country has stopped crying, it is because they ran out of tears. Their embarrassment has been so overwhelming that their dream of avenging their loss in the 1950 final is forgotten.
But they are supposed to still stand above Argentina. It is what they do. And soon they may not any more.
It may change on one evening in Rio de Janeiro, with the world's eyes watching but without Brazil's bright yellow buzzing about the Maracanã, as had been the script. Instead, the blue and white of Argentina. It is the albiceleste that will be in the spotlight, on the edge of history and forcing Brazil to root for the Germany team that beat, battered and humiliated them just four days ago.
World Cup final
World Cup final
Brazilian and Argentinean football cultures of the last 20 years are inextricably linked. The Seleção are defined by their greatness, and that is never more evident than with a look at their rivals, who are more like little brothers. And the albiceleste can be fun, star studded and even good, but they are never good enough, instead defined by what they are not.
On Sunday, two decades of football culture might come crashing down. The last thing Brazil have to cling to could be blown to pieces in their glorious stadium, that was supposed to be the stage for their highest point, while Argentina could lay claim to be champions of the world and, as importantly to them, champions of Brazil.
The world's most coveted trophy is on the line, as is history and legacies, but so is self-worth — what's left of Brazil's and what has been the impossible dream for Argentina. Throughout the tournament, the albiceleste's fans have been singing 'How does it feel, Brazil, to have Daddy at home?' The poor hosts might be about to find out.