RIO DE JANEIRO – 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.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine all four semifinalists will be South American.
Quarterfinals start Friday with Brazil facing the Netherlands at 7 a.m. on ESPN, followed by a match between Uruguay and Ghana (11:30 a.m., ESPN), the team that eliminated the United States.
Saturday’s quarterfinals match Germany and Argentina (7 a.m., Ch. 4) and Paraguay against Spain (11:30 a.m., Ch. 4).
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.
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).
While Europe had six of its 13 teams advance to the second round, and will have three teams in the quarters. European teams went 15-10-14 in group play, and powerhouses Italy and France failed to make it out of their groups. England, expected to win its group, finished second to the U.S.
There are several popular explanations for the South Americans’ success.
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.
Eduardo Brasil, 22, knows the real secret to his nation’s World Cup showing.
“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.”
In Buenos Aires, the joy that coach Diego 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.
“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.”