World Cup 2010: South America leads the way into quarterfinals

Luis Suarez, celebrating a goal, has helped Uruguay gain the quarterfinals for the first time in 40 years.
Luis Suarez, celebrating a goal, has helped Uruguay gain the quarterfinals for the first time in 40 years. (Doug Pensinger/getty Images)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- South America's moment was not supposed to come for another four summers, when the World Cup returns to the continent after a 36-year absence.

The land that blessed us with Pele and Diego Maradona, with nine of the 18 tournament champions, with Copa America, samba soccer, Carlos Valderrama's electrified mane, Maracana Stadium and the Boca Juniors-River Plate derby would celebrate the sport in its uniquely rhythmic way with a month-long Brazilian carnival.

These past three weeks in South Africa were supposed to facilitate England's breakthrough, Italy's repeat, France's reform and sub-Sahara's emergence. Brazil would join the favorites, as it always does, and Argentina would try to balance the game's best player with its kooky coach.

But as this World Cup nears the end, soccer's most articulate language has been Spanish (with Portuguese). Four of South America's five teams have reached the quarterfinals, and with each in separate brackets, the prospects of a one-continent final four are very real.

It will begin to play out Friday with Brazil taking on the Netherlands in Port Elizabeth and Uruguay facing Ghana at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium. On Saturday, Argentina meets Germany in Cape Town followed by Paraguay testing Spain at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

"We, the South Americans, are playing the World Cup the way it should be played by all," said Maradona, the impetuous Argentine coach.

The four Latin American quarterfinalists have a combined record of 11-0-5; the only team that failed to reach this stage was Chile, which won its first two matches before losing the Group H finale to European champion Spain, 2-1, and dropping a round-of-16 match to five-time world champion Brazil, 3-0.

In 2006 in Germany, just two South American teams reached the quarterfinals, at which point Brazil and Argentina were ousted. All four semifinalists were European. Four years prior in South Korea and Japan, Brazil, the eventual champion, was the lone representative in the final eight, and in 1998 in France, Brazil and Argentina joined six European sides.

"We play to attack and to win," former Chilean star Ivan Zamarano said of South America's success. "Teams with a footballing history, like Brazil and Argentina, are always protagonists. But right now the Uruguayans, Paraguayans and Chileans are all showing clear signs they're more alive than ever."

Aside from their fine form, the South Americans also have history on their side this year. While a European country has never won the World Cup outside its own continent, Brazil has accomplished it four times and Argentina once.

While Brazil's progression this year was expected under Dunga's disciplined coaching and the Selecao's individual skill, Argentina's passage was predicated on Maradona managing his infamous temperament and ability to forge a team around superstar Lionel Messi. Maradona has behaved himself and, despite not scoring, Messi has been a delight to watch.

Uruguay, in the quarterfinals for the first time in 40 years, has belied its historically cynical tactics, exhibiting a fresh, attacking style spearheaded by forwards Diego Forlán and Luis Suarez, who have totaled five of the team's six goals.

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