Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Latin America World Cup Unity Weather Argentina vs Netherlands?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Latin America World Cup Unity Weather Argentina vs Netherlands?

Article excerpt

Brazil may have been humiliated by Germany in its World Cup semifinal last night, but overall this summer Latin American teams from Chile to Costa Rica have captivated spectators.

Away from the field, too, the region's fans have dominated. They've flooded host cities - often arriving after long bus, car, or boat journeys - and rooted for each other's teams.

Even if a European nation wins the final on July 13, there is a sense that the World Cup has been Latin America's tournament. Some say it has even consolidated regional unity.

"This hasn't been a World Cup; it's been an America's cup," says Brazilian Sebastiao Luiz, a lawyer here in Rio de Janeiro.

But as the end of the tournament nears -- Argentina plays the Netherlands today to decide which nation will face Germany in Sunday's final -- this regional unity is beginning to strain.

Common identityCopacabana Beach, the gathering point for thousands of fans, has at times been microcosm of the region. Mexicans, sporting green jerseys, have mingled with Chileans, wearing red, and Colombians, in yellow. There has even been a noticeable crowd of Venezuelans, whose national team didn't qualify for the tournament. This, together with success on the field -- seven Latin American nations progressed to the "Round of 16" stage - - has fostered regional solidarity at a time when leaders have committed to developing closer economic and political ties. "Soccer has reinforced the concept of Latin American identity, taking it beyond the presidential sphere," says Leandro Morgenfeld, a history professor at the University of Buenos Aires who has written on unity in the region.

For years, there has been a push by some leaders to unite. Late President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela, for example, urged integration to counter US influence in the region. In Argentina, a government TV ad thanking Latin American allies for their support in a recent high- profile legal battle with US-based creditors over lingering debt has been broadcast during World Cup matches.

Even with little cash or no match tickets, many Latin Americans traveled to Brazil to soak up the World Cup atmosphere.

"It's like Latin America united itself around a [soccer] ball," says Alonso Escobar, a carpenter. …

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