Latinos make it their Copa

Latinos make it their Copa
Costa Rican fans celebrate in San Jose on June 20, 2014 after defeating Italy in a Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup football match and reaching the second round of the tournament.

Brazil - Chile and Costa Rica have emerged as one of the surprise packages of World Cup 2014 when they became the first to book slots in the knockout stages.

But they are not the only Latin American teams making an impact in Brazil.

With Colombia also making the Round of 16 and traditional powerhouses Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico also expected to progress, Brazil 2014 could be the most successful campaign for Latin America yet.

The best outing Latin America has had was at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay went through.

This year, seven teams are on track, possibly eight if Ecuador manage to pull off an upset in Group F and avoid joining Honduras as the only country from the region to be eliminated.

"We kept our heads and it was a beautiful match," said Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto after his team stunned Italy 1-0.

"The people of Costa Rica deserve this. They supported the team and me. This was for them."

For sure, fan support has been a contributing factor in the fine form of the Latin American teams.

The Brazil World Cup has attracted a record number of fans from the region, with about 70 per cent of the three million tickets sold going to Latin American fans.

Fans from Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Mexico are especially omnipresent at the Fifa Fan Fest sites across the 12 host cities.

They are usually the most colourfully dressed and the most enthusiatic, breaking into song and dance just for the fun of it.

Such strong support could be crucial if Latin American teams are to protect their proud tradition of winning every World Cup held in the region (Uruguay 1930, Brazil 1950, Chile 1962, Mexico 1970, Argentina 1978 and Mexico 1986).

Said Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica's match winner against Italy on Friday, as fans in red, blue and white sang and cheered their team on at the final whistle: "Maybe we did not realise how important this victory was, but we now do."

But fan support aside, what is really making Latin American teams a threat in Brazil is their football evolution, the ability to build teams around a core of domestic-based group of players, aided by those with European experience and get all of them playing a tactically modern style of play.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli praised Costa Rica for their "European sort of organisation".

He said: "They are a very well-organised team with a formation and strategy that the players know off by heart. They go out on the pitch knowing exactly what they need to do."

Of the three Latin American sides to make the round of 16 so far, 42 out of the 69 players from Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica are based in Europe.

Unlike the era of the likes of Carlos Valderrama (Colombia) and Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano (Chile), Latin American players are now schooled in the European art of football.

The knowledge of European tactics and players is a big reason why Chile and Costa Rica have managed to get out of tough groups with relative ease, seeing off Spain and Italy along the way.

And they all have not just qualified, but also done it in style, with the three teams, collectively, scoring 14 goals and conceding just three in six group matches.

The strong performance has got players like Chile's talismanic midfielder Arturo Vidal dreaming of the big prize.

He said: "To be the world champions there are seven games and you have to play them all like a final. We beat the reigning champions and we hope this will help us keep improving because we want to be a great time and win the World Cup."

Latin America had a breakthrough tournament in 2010 when half of the eight teams who made it to the World Cup quarter-finals were from the region.

But the last team to lift the World Cup was Brazil in 2002, also the last time a Latin American team made the final.

In Brazil, they might just do better. The world has been warned - 2014 could be Latin America's year.



1990: Last 16

Finished second in a group containing Brazil, Sweden and Scotland, before they were beaten 4-1 by Czechoslovakia in the first knockout stage.

2002: Group stage

Finished third in group containing China, Turkey and eventual World Cup winners Brazil.

2006: Group stage

Finished bottom of a group which included Germany, Ecuador and Poland.

This article was first published on JUNE 22, 2014.
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