Fifty-five years ago to this day, Argentina and Brazil collided with much more than bragging rights at stake. Level on eight points in the South American Championship, A Seleção knew victory would probably be enough for them to emerge with the trophy, while La Albiceleste were aware that a win would definitely complete the defence of their crown.
With Antonio Angelillo, Humberto Maschio and Omar Sivori, the so-called ‘Angels With Dirty Faces’, in rampant form, the Argentinians had beaten Colombia 8-2, Ecuador 3-0, Uruguay 4-0 and Chile 6-2. The Brazilians, inspired by Didi, Pepe and Evaristo, had defeated Chile 4-2, Ecuador 7-1 and Colombia 9-0, and though they lost 3-2 to Uruguay in a game they dominated, Osvaldo Brandao’s men got back on track by seeing off hosts Peru.
The teams’ previous three encounters in the 1950s had been very tight affairs – Brazil won the first 1-0 in Montevideo, before a 2-2 stalemate in Mexico City and a goalless draw in Buenos Aires – so another close encounter was predicted. It was not forthcoming. What was, by contrast, was an Argentinian master class.
Engine-room rock Nestor Rossi nullified Didi’s genius. Forward Sivori wowed the near 60,000 at the Estadio Nacional in Lima throughout with his beguiling trickery. Osvaldo Cruz gave outstanding right-back Djalma Santos such a hard time that the latter encouraged Palmeiras into signing the former a few years later. Cruz was one of Guillermo Stabile’s side’s marksmen in a convincing 3-0 success, with Angelillo and Maschio the others.
The teams’ fortunes nevertheless took wildly differing turns thereafter. Angelillo, Maschio and Sivori moved to Italy to play their club football and were consequently banned from representing Argentina, who, in their absence, lost 6-1 to Czechoslovakia and crashed out of the 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden™ at the group stage, while humiliation in the Peruvian capital prompted Brazil to afford a chance to emerging stars Garrincha and Pele... and we all know how that paid dividends.
Still, ‘The Angels With Dirty Faces’ had given Argentinians a goodbye gift on 3 April 1957 that they would cherish eternally.