South America revels in strong World Cup showing
Across South America, soccer fans are feeling the joy of victory, spiked with a twist of revenge.
The continent's teams have dominated at World Cup 2010.
Of its five nations in the field of 32 on opening day, four are still alive headed to the quarterfinals: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Just Chile — the only South American team to lose in the tournament — has been eliminated. And the Chileans fell in the second round to Brazil.
After watching her nation's best players develop at home and then leave for big contracts in European leagues, the past couple of weeks have been sweet for Brazilian fan Rosangela Pereira.
''We know our players go abroad for the money — but we miss them!'' Pereira said Tuesday while watching Paraguay's win over Japan on Copacabana beach. ''When it's time for the Cup, our hearts burst and the crowds vibrate, seeing our boys come home, playing for their flag.''
The continent's fans have had a lot to cheer about.
Going into the quarter-finals, South American teams have 10 wins, four draws and two losses (Chile also lost to Spain in group play). Argentina leads in goals (10), shots (75) and shots on goal (36).
Europe, on the other hand, saw only six of its 13 teams advance to the second round, and will have only three teams in the quarters. European teams went 15-10-14 in group play, and traditional powerhouses Italy and France failed to make it out of their groups. England, expected by most to win its group, finished second to the U.S.
To top it off, there is a chance the semifinals will only feature teams from South America, a fact Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva enjoyed noting during a joint press conference with the leader of the last nation to win the tournament, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
There are several popular explanations for the South Americans' success.
Some have speculated that their tough qualifying road helps once they get to the World Cup. Unlike in Europe, where Spain could get a group that includes, for example, Faeroe Islands and Moldova, there's one big group in South America and few ''easy'' teams. Only two points separated Uruguay, which earned its spot by beating CONCACAF member Costa Rica in a playoff, and the next three teams.
Also, while top players do go to Europe, there are good domestic leagues in South America where players can develop, making for deep national rosters. In Brazil, for example, there was a campaign to get teenage phenomenon Neymar — who plays for the Brazilian club Santos — on the national team, though coach Dunga wound up leaving him home.
Twenty-two-year-old Eduardo Brasil knows the real secret to his nation's many victories.
''It's in our veins, we are born knowing how to play. Look at those boys over there,'' he said, motioning to a group of three young kids kicking a ball around on Copacabana beach during Paraguay's match. ''Europe comes and robs kids as young as 14. But they always come back for the Cup.''
Over in Buenos Aires, the joy that coach Maradona and his star-studded team are bringing to Argentina with their gorgeous play is generating enormous pride.
''You have to be happy. The poorest countries are dominating the world,'' said 70-year-old taxi driver Desiderio Villalba, an Argentina flag flapping from his radio antenna. ''Those who invented the game are already out. It is very comical.''
Cristian Soria, a 32-year-old waiter in Buenos Aires, said he was certain the World Cup trophy would next reside in a South American nation — preferably his own, of course.
''In the European leagues, the best players are South Americans,'' he said. ''For that reason, our national teams have an advantage. As compared to the Europeans, who have nothing.''
To be certain, national and continental pride come into play when fans debate the World Cup, but that's part of the fun of the tournament.
South American players on the field, however, are taking a more diplomatic tone.
''It shows the strength of South American football recently. All teams advanced from tough groups and they are showing the talent we have in the region,'' Brazil's Kaka said after the Chile win. ''Let's see how they can progress.''
Back in South America, there's no doubt how this tournament will progress — it will end in a championship for one of its teams.
''What is happening in the World Cup is clearly showing one thing: the best football is played in South America,'' said Andres Izzi, a 27-year-old newspaper stand owner in Uruguay's capital of Montevideo. ''You only have to look at Europe, where the teams only stand out because they have South American players on their rosters.''
Leticia Villaera, a 29-year-old Paraguayan flight attendant on a six-hour layover in Rio, watched on Copacabana beach as her team advanced for the first time in its history to the quarterfinals, slipping by Japan on penalty shots.
Screaming with each Paraguay penalty, Villaera was the embodiment of what she claimed to be South America's spirit.
''We're the best because we have more desire, we feel the heat of the game! Go, South America! Go, go!'' she yelled, seconds after collapsing on the sand in joy upon Paraguay's win, tears streaming down her face and dribbling off her chin. ''The people of Latin America are so passionate about everything we do — and that's what makes all the difference.''
With that, Villaera turned, ran a few feet and dove into the arms of a dozen other Paraguayans, most wrapped in flags and their team's jersey, as the Brazilians standing nearby applauded their neighbouring nation's success.