UPDATE: Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-2 on penalty kicks Wednesday, advancing to Sunday's final versus Germany.
MEXICO CITY — When Mexico was booted out of the World Cup by a hotly contested Dutch penalty, a sizzling coach Miguel Herrera had a shoving match with the Netherlands’ striker, then gave an angry news conference.
The fault for Mexico’s loss, he said, lay clearly with the Portuguese referee, whom he accused of having a European bias.
“Why do they bring referees from South America, Asia or Africa, if in the end they’re going to put a referee from the same federation as the team you are playing?” asked Herrera, known for his ecstatic goal celebrations.
“Today, it’s the man with the whistle who left us out of the World Cup. … He makes up fouls that aren’t there and in the end he invents a penalty.”
It’s not the only time in this World Cup that the oceanic division has crept onto the field.
When Chile eliminated Spain with two goals, headline writers in Latin America jumped on the colony-versus-empire analogy.
“South America resists the Europeans,” wrote one.
“The fall of the Spanish Empire,” wrote another.
And when Uruguayan pistolero Luis Suarez notoriously bit an Italian player, it was fellow South American bad boy Diego Maradona who came to his defense, calling his four-month ban “shameful.”
“Why are they sending Suarez to Guantanamo? Who did he kill?” a rather doped up looking Maradona asked on a TV program called “Left Foot.”
This antagonism emerged at the classic continental clash of Holland and Argentina in Wednesday’s semifinal. Now, with Argentina's win, the South Americans advance to face Germany in Sunday's final.
The old European-Latin American soccer battle came to a head during Germany's crushing win against Brazil Tuesday. (Buda Mendes/AFP/Getty Images)
Germany’s historic 7-1 defeat of Brazil on Tuesday also added a painful episode for Latin Americans in the rivalry.
Historians of the beautiful game are quick to point out that such intercontinental accusations of bias and dirty tricks are as old as the World Cup itself, the granddaddy of all soccer rivalries.
The tug-of-war often dwells on stereotypical styles of play, pitting the flashy, skillful soccer of Latin Americans against the disciplined, physical game of Europeans.
But like in many things soccer, it quickly degenerates into quarrels over history and values: the Europeans accused of being arrogant, uptight imperialists, the Latin Americans as explosive, temperamental and undisciplined.
Back in 1938, Argentina and Uruguay boycotted the World Cup hosted in France, protesting that it should not be held in two European countries in a row.
In the 1962 World Cup, two Italian journalists had to flee Chile after they wrote scathing descriptions of the earthquake-battered nation. The ensuing Chile-Italy match was known as the Battle of Santiago, involving scuffles between players in which police had to intervene three times.
The following 1966 cup in England was no better. It was tarnished by South American teams complaining bitterly about an alleged European reffing conspiracy.
The most notorious incident involved a German referee sending off Argentine captain Antonio Rattin, who was so infuriated he had to be hauled away by police. English coach Alf Ramsey called the Argentine team “animals” after the game, which is known in the South American country as the “robo del siglo” — the “robbery of the century.”
The list goes on.
The rivalry died down in the 1990s and 2000s. Now it’s back with a vengeance in this first tournament to be held in Latin America in almost three decades.
In the semifinals, many here in Mexico root for Argentina against the Netherlands team, which Mexicans say unfairly knocked them out.
Alan Ramirez, who was walking though a Mexico City shopping center with an Argentina shirt, said his support comes from a common sense of identity and culture.
“Latin Americans are all brothers so even if Mexico is out, I am happy that Costa Rica or Argentina does well,” Ramirez says. “If the World Cup is being held here in the Americas, it is better that a team from here wins.”
History favors such a wish to be true. A European squad has never won the cup in the Western Hemisphere.
Of course, continental solidarity is not a constant.
Many Europeans applaud the mastery of five-time World Cup champion Brazil, while many Latin Americans admire the pace and power of Germany.
Nationalist rivalries on each side of the Atlantic have also come up over the years.
Mexico views the United States as an old adversary, which used to be easy to beat, before it became a competitive force.
The Dutch and the Germans have played bitter matches, in which references to the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in World War II were made in the Dutch media.
Brazilians and Argentines argue about whether Pele or Maradona was the greatest player of all time.
For many, such rivalries are simply part of the sport. That is, until they spiral into violence on the streets, such as when English fans fought pitch battles against opposition fans in the World Cup in France in 1998.
“Football has nothing to do with fair play,” George Orwell said of the game he loved to hate. “It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”