After barely qualifying to play in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa this year, Argentina breezed through group play yesterday defeating Greece, 2-0 and securing a spot in the knockout round of the tournament. The Albicelestes allowed only one goal in group play by the South Korean team, who will accompany the Argentines into the next phase of the tournament.
Argentina’s performance is a turn around for a team whose entry into the tournament wasn’t secured until their last match in the World Cup qualifiers. Stars like Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez, and Javier Mascherano, have regained their form and have thus far fulfilled expectations.
Arguably, however, Argentina faced no major challengers in group play. The next round will present tougher competitors like Mexico, where there will be no room for errors or slow starts. Overall, Latin America has performed better than most other regions, with six of seven teams either already advancing, or with good odds of advancing in the coming days.
The 2010 World Cup may be just months away (June 11 kick-off), but futbol fanatics in Latin America can hardly wait. Impatience is understandable. In Latin America, soccer is more than a sport; it is the sport.
The World Cup generates a nationalist soccer fervor that brews for four years and culminates in a month-long frenzy. Infused with a sense of national pride and collective culture, people rally around their country’s flag, setting aside differences to support their team. It is hard to believe a sports tournament could be a respite from some of the deep political and cultural rifts in Latin America, yet the World Cup always manages to unite people in a phenomenal way.
Unfortunately, not every Latin American country can watch their team participate; the qualification round eliminated all but seven nations from the competition. The seven qualified teams represent a broad spectrum of talent; Brazil, the region’s best team, ranks second in the world, while the weakest of the seven, Honduras, is number 34.
How do the Latin American teams as a whole stack up against the other 25 teams, and what are the chances that one of them will hoist the golden trophy?