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World Cup: Brazil, Argentina and the haves and have-nots

Matt Pearson Melbourne
July 22, 2023

Brazil and Argentina form one of international football's fiercest rivalries. But while Brazil start World Cup 2023 after impeccable preparations, Argentina have only just made it to New Zealand. Why so different?

The Brazil team pose at training
Brazil set their training base in a luxury resort in Queensland, AustrailaImage: EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

The mood at Brazil's five-star luxury resort on Australia's Gold Coast is joyful.

A set of stepping stones over a serene lake leads from an airy lobby to a training facility where the squad play a series of games designed to keep spirits high. Pia Sundahage's squad arrived in Australia nearly three weeks before their World Cup opener against Panama on Monday.

"We have planned this for a very long time. And we came here pretty early actually, if you compare with a lot of other teams," Sundhage's assistant Lilie Persson told DW. "We are very happy with this place. It's marvellous, just look around."

The other historic South American superpower, and only other nation to win the Copa America, Argentina, kick off their campaign a few hours earlier. But members of the Albiceleste squad and their support staff have been arriving in instalments, with some landing less than five days before their clash with Italy in Auckland.

While Brazil, and other major footballing nations, are making significant forward strides, Gaby Garton, who represented Argentina at the 2019 World Cup, told DW that the Argentina Football Association's questionable preparations suggest they are "going backwards."

Preparation is key

"In France, we arrived with more time in advance, we got to Paris about 10 days before the start of the tournament," she explained from Melbourne, where she now plays for Melbourne Victory.

"So it felt like we actually came in a bit more adapted to the new surroundings, to the new place. That's why I was a bit shocked when I saw the team beginning to travel so close to the date."

Given the complex logistics of a tournament played in two countries as vast and diverse as Australia and New Zealand, preparation becomes more critical, argued the former River Plate keeper.

Gabi Garton catches a football
Gabi Garton was in the Argentina squad that traveled to France in 2019Image: Mark Avellino/SportPix/picture alliance

"Getting here with quite a bit of anticipation is super important. Coming to a new country, a new culture, I think the biggest thing is the jetlag [there's a 15 hour time difference between Buenos Aires and Auckland]. I would say it takes you probably a good week, at least, to adjust your sleep schedules.

"As a professional athlete heading into the biggest competition that you'll probably be part of in your life, if you're not getting a good night's sleep before the game, it's going to affect your performance.

"It's common sense. I don't know if arriving here five days before your match is really going to give you that ability to consolidate your sleep. And also get used to potentially new foods, things like that. A 24-hour trip takes a toll on your body as well."

Such issues are commonplace at the tournament. While established, well-resourced international sides like England, Spain and Canada arrived early, they enter with pay or bonus disputes unresolved.

Poorer countries have even more severe problems; Zambia players have reportedly not been paid for two years and Haiti prepare for their debut World Cup with their federation president still facing claims of widespread sexual harassment.

In truth, there are few sides untouched by these sorts of disputes despite the rapid growth of the women's game. Brazil themselves banned women's football until the late 70s and are still making up lost time.

The women's side are yet to win the World Cup, though are always among the contenders, but have given themselves the best chance of success this time around.

Rafaelle praises Brazil plans

"We've been here 10 days and we had another two weeks training in Brazil with the players that are in Europe," captain Rafaelle told DW eleven days before their opening fixture. "So I think this is not going to be a problem for us."

Those players whose countries lack the desired support from the federation often opt to put their issues aside to compete at the World Cup.

Garton, who now also works with global union The World Players Association, decided that being able to speak out on such issues, along with having a son, was worth more than a possible second World Cup trip.

Estefania Banini took as similar path. Arguably Argentina's finest ever female footballer, the Atletico Madrid forward was banished from the squad for three years after criticizing the coach and federation following the 2019 World Cup. She only returned during qualifying for this tournament. Such decisions are tough to make when sport is your livelihood and your ambition.

Estefania Banini puts her fingers to her face
Estefania Banini has recently returned for Argentina after three years in the coldImage: Natacha Pisarenko/AP/picture alliance

"If you speak out, you're not only going to be silenced, but you're risking your chance to wear these colors, to represent Argentina," Garton said.

"The players are in a tricky position, because you have to put on a happy face and say 'Yes, we're so excited for the for the tournament and thankful for everything that the Federation is doing for us.'"

'Gratitude complex'

"I think the issue with my generation and the earlier ones is that you have this gratitude complex, where you're just happy to be there. So you're just getting the chance to travel, just getting the chance to be a part of the national team to represent Argentina.

"But the younger generations are coming in as professionals, some of them already playing overseas and seeing better things, and saying, 'No, no, this isn't right, we deserve better, the standard should be higher.'"

The Brazilian federation (CBF) are far from flawless in their treatment of female footballers, with player disputes fairly common, but their preparation this time around is as good as anyone's. For Persson, the inability, or unwillingness, of other South American federations to follow suit holds the continent back.

"There are some bad FAs that don't let their teams prepare professionally." she said. "So you can't compare it with the Euros, World Cup or Olympics."

Garton believes any Argentinian success at the World Cup, where they are yet to win a match, would help the sport grow. But she also warned the country is in grave danger of serious regression.

Haves and have nots

"I think as the game grows internationally, automatically other teams will have to follow suit," she says. 

"I hope that Argentina will do so quicker than others because you definitely don't want to be missing out on future World Cups because say, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela or Uruguay, some of these teams that are close to breaking into that top four for qualification, have done a better job of preparation.

"If you're Argentina, you want to be gunning for Brazil at this point in time, you don't want to sit back and wait for the others to catch up. The game is moving forward and you don't want to be left behind."

Though Argentina, as men's world champions, are a stark example of how easily a country can fall off the pace, their story is far from unique. The rapid growth of women's football is powered largely by a few forward-thinking, rich and mainly European and North American countries.

It has had benefits globally but not universally. And the gap between the haves and have-nots looks to be widening.

Brazil and Argentina: A tale of two teams

Edited by Matt Ford