Latin American squads shining
Updated: 2014-06-22 07:02
By Reuters in Cuiaba, Brazil (China Daily)
Costa Rica's domination of a group which includes three former champions and Chile and Colombia's triumphant march through their first two matches highlight the strength of the Latin American challenge at the World Cup.
A mixture of enhanced coaching and the confidence gained from playing on familiar territory in their own region means they can play an attacking game that comes more naturally to them, with the bonus of profiting from their better ball skills.
Another major factor is the growing number of players from all over Latin America gaining experience in Europe's top and secondary leagues.
But the improvement of the national teams is mainly due to management policies at home.
Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are the South American names that have already been etched on the trophy, but an all-encompassing CONMEBOL qualifying system introduced for the 1998 finals in France has allowed other nations on the continent to make progress through greater competition with the big guns.
The group was made up of nine of the 10 member nations, minus World Cup host Brazil, with the teams all playing 16 demanding matches on a home-and-away league basis.
Colombia and Chile, both with highly-regarded Argentine coaches, finished second and third respectively behind Argentina with Ecuador fourth, leaving Uruguay once again to book a ticket to the finals in an intercontinental playoff.
Venezuela had never come as close to qualifying for its first finals as last year when only a 1-0 home loss to a Uruguay side staring elimination in the face dashed the dream.
The new World Cup qualification system and South America's extension of the Copa America since the 1990s to 12 teams, including two invited in from other confederations, usually CONCACAF, has benefited Costa Rica and Mexico.
The two nations sent development teams to the Copa America in Argentina three years ago and are yielding the benefits, Mexico having gone on to win the Olympic gold medal in London in 2012.
Costa Rica, then coached by Mexican-based Argentine Ricardo La Volpe, blooded the likes of Joel Campbell in Argentina in 2011 and Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto has carried on the work.
The latter has now led the team to shock wins at the World Cup over Uruguay, a semifinalist in 2010, and Italy, champion for the fourth time in 2006.
"Costa Rica prepared from the preseason and today we've seen the results," Pinto said. "I'm not sure if I'm being daring, but I think that in defense we had a perfect match. We've beaten ... an Italy with marvelous and extraordinary players,"
Midfielder Celso Borges, referring to Costa Rica qualifying for the second round for the first time since Italia '90, said: "Let the people enjoy, because we're going for more. We've tied our history but we want to be immortal."
South America, having made a mark at the finals in South Africa four years ago by getting four teams into the quarterfinals, wants to win the trophy back for the first time since Brazil's record fifth victory in 2002.
Maynor Figueroa of Honduras battles Ecuador's Jorge Guagua (center) and Cristhian Noboa for the ball during their Group E clash at Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, on Friday. Ecuador posted a 2-1 victory. Andrew Medichini / Associated Press
(China Daily 06/22/2014 page11)