The Beautiful Mirage

BUENOS AIRES – The eyes of the world, and especially those of South America, will be on Brazil when it stages the World Cup in June and July. Even weeks before the event, soccer stories have been dominating the media, and not just in the sports pages. Advertisers cannot get enough of it; companies are altering production lines to cater to it; and politicians are postponing all but their most essential meetings until after the final.

Football’s magnetic force will soon draw supporters worldwide into intricate discussions over the validity of a goal, the intention behind a foul, or the missed opportunities of an attack. Such debates will be especially animated in South America’s three main footballing countries – Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay – whose people view success on the field as signifying more than just sporting prowess.

“Football is the one area in which we can compete with the big countries of the world as equals,” remarked Daniel Passarella, Argentina’s former national coach. This is certainly true for Argentina and Uruguay; in the case of Brazil (which has won the tournament more often than any other country), it is, if anything, an understatement.

Latin American pride is justified. Uruguayans still derive immeasurable satisfaction from their soccer successes, including two World Cup triumphs (albeit back in 1930 and 1950) and a semifinal in South Africa in 2010. Argentina has twice held the trophy, and boasts two of the game’s greatest players ever, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. And Brazil’s roll call of heroes includes Pelé, Garrincha, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Neymar, to name only a few.