World Cup Turning Into South American Fiesta
GUY RAZ, host:
Soccer's World Cup is now in the knockout phase, and one of the most surprising things is how well the South American teams are doing, not the soccer powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but teams like Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay. They've all made it to the Round of 16.
And Gideon Long, who's at the World Cup, reports on how South Africa is rapidly turning into a South American fiesta.
Unidentified People: (Foreign language spoken)
GIDEON LONG: Chile's fans finally have something to shout about. After 48 years without winning a World Cup match, they've now won two in less than a week. That was enough to take them through the group stage of the competition, and they now face Brazil in an all-South American clash in Johannesburg tomorrow.
The Chileans don't usually do well at the World Cup, but they came to South Africa full of confidence after an excellent qualifying campaign. Felipe Sutherland(ph) is a young fan who's made the journey to South Africa to follow the team.
Mr. FELIPE SUTHERLAND: If you'll see their qualifiers in South America, we finished second. So that is like a, for us, very important. We won many matches outside our country. That was like not possible a few years ago, and today it's possible. So that reflects that we have a great team.
LONG: And the Chileans are not the only ones singing. Diego Maradona's Argentina are looking unbeatable with a man many consider the world's best player: Lionel Messi. Uruguay are unbeaten in their first four matches, and in Diego Forlan, they have one of the most dangerous forwards in the world. And even Paraguay, a nation of just six million people, have made it through to the last 16 after holding world champions Italy to a one-one draw.
In all, of the 15 matches they've played here, the South American sides have lost just one: Chile's two-one defeat to European champion Spain on Friday.
So why are the South Americans doing so well? Well, Argentine legend Diego Maradona came out with a theory this week. He said he thinks it's because they faced such a difficult task just to get here in the first place.
And maybe he has a point. While the USA team played 10 matches to reach South Africa, the South Americans had to play 18 each, good preparation for the month-long showdown of the World Cup itself.
Ivan Zamorano went to the World Cup with Chile in 1998 and was one of the country's greatest ever players, scoring 34 goals in 69 appearances. He says the South American sides have really come of age at this World Cup.
Mr. IVAN ZAMORANO (Soccer Player, Chile): (Through translator) They're having an impact. I think they found an identity, a way of playing that offers something different. South American football is bringing a lot of quality to this World Cup. They're looking to play in a way that has something to do with the very identity of South American football.
LONG: That said, there are still plenty of ways other countries could spoil the South American party. But for now, it's the likes of Argentina and Brazil who are in charge here. And their fans, thousands of whom have made the long journey across the South Atlantic to be here, are enjoying every minute of it.
(Soundbite of music)
RAZ: That's Gideon Long, reporting from South Africa.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.