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Latin America rallies around Argentina

By Associated Press in Bogota, Colombia | China Daily | Updated: 2014-07-12 06:55

With a reputation for arrogance and manufactured European-style grandeur, Argentines have long been the object of scorn and the butt of jokes across Latin America

But for at least 90 minutes on Sunday, when Argentina takes on Germany in the World Cup final, most Latin Americans will put aside disdain for their proud neighbors as they look to Lionel Messi and his teammates to salvage what's left of the region's soccer pride.

A defeat for Argentina would be historic, because a European team has never been crowned champion on this side of the Atlantic.

But in the wake of Germany's 7-1 thrashing of host Brazil, even the most devoted believers in the spontaneous and stylish Latin American brand of soccer are wondering if the region is outmatched.

"My heart wants Argentina to win, but my brain says Germany will," said Alberto Ramos Salcedo, a Colombian journalist and author who frequently writes about soccer.

That Argentina has stepped into the role as the region's crusader is a cruel reversal for many.

An online poll in 19 countries taken by YouGov and The New York Times prior to the World Cup found that most survey respondents in Latin American countries said the team they rooted against was Argentina, which has won the title twice.

The animosity toward Argentina stems from the country's settlement by waves of European immigrants beginning in the late 19th century, a demographic marker that long fueled perceptions of economic and cultural superiority over their more indigenous or African-descended neighbors.

Even the Italian-influenced Spanish spoken on the streets of Buenos Aires is out of step with the language elsewhere in the region.

Following a humbling 2001 economic collapse, Argentina has courted closer ties with the rest of the region and now looks with envy at Brazil's economic muscle.

Coach Alejandro Sabella's motto of "humility and hard work" also stands in stark contrast to the flash and brash exuded by legendary ex-player Diego Maradona, who served as Argentina's manager at the previous World Cup.

But not everyone is dancing the tango, least of all fans in Brazil, who are still agonizing over their team's shocking defeat.

The mere presence of their eternal rival playing a final at Maracana Stadium is a pill too hard to swallow, even if they would like to see their loss to Germany avenged.

"There's no way Argentina can win," 23-year-old Ingrid Luana said in Rio.

Brazil's star striker, Neymar, said he'll be cheering on Argentina, but only because he wants to see his Barcelona teammates Messi and Javier Mascherano take a world championship.

For soccer purists, there's little doubt that Germany is the favorite to win.

"The truth is the Argentines are overvalued," said Humberto Melendez, owner of a Mexico City bookstore that specializes in soccer literature. "But a World Cup in Latin America needs to be won by a Latin American" team.


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