Latin pride swells as teams advance

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RIO DE JANEIRO - Latin American football fans never need much excuse to get excited, but the region's best start to a World Cup in years is fuelling the fiesta and giving them a shot of sporting pride.

Six out of seven Latin American teams at the World Cup have qualified for the knockout phase in South Africa, compared with just four at the last World Cup in Germany in 2006.

Slick football from teams like Chile and Uruguay as well as traditional giants Argentina and Brazil has seen the region's teams thrive.

"It's definitely a huge satisfaction. I feel proud to be from Latin America because Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina they're all playing great football," said Jose Raul Portocarrero, a 63-year-old dentist who was watching Germany beat Ghana on Wednesday afternoon in downtown Lima, Peru.

Peru did not make it to the finals, so Portocarrero was rooting for Paraguay "because they have driven players; they are bold, tough players."

Many other Latin Americans tend to throw their allegiances behind regional giants Brazil or Argentina if their own nations get knocked out.

In Buenos Aires, the early exits of storied European nations such as Italy and France have fueled hopes that national icon Maradona can coach Argentina to victory.

"Before, Europeans always won," said Elias Cianciaruso, a 27-year-old waiter. Now, he said with a large dose of exaggeration, South American players "are faster, taller and stronger than the Europeans. One Argentine player can beat the entire Spanish team."

CONFIDENT BRAZIL

Jorge Vigiano, a 43-year-old businessman in Buenos Aires, who was buying a team shirt with midfielder Lionel Messi's name for his daughter, said his country would have already won if the tournament was awarded on passion.

"In European countries, there are fans, but it's not the same passion."

That passion has been on display as thousands of fans across the region from Chile's capital Santiago to Recife in northeastern Brazil have gathered to watch games on giant screens.

Mexico City's governor estimated that 80,000 fans watched their team take on Uruguay in an open-air viewing area in the city's historical center, with the number expected to rise to 100,000 for Sunday's knockout game against Argentina.

In Santiago, police have had to resort to water cannon to disperse unruly supporters after both of the side's games so far and authorities planned to send an additional 1,500 police onto the streets for Friday's clash with Spain.

"Here, football is lived differently - it's lived more intensely" said Argentine Victor Munoz, who said that as a child he often rode on horseback for more than 5 km (3 miles), crossing rivers on the way, to watch football games.

Brazilians, having won the most World Cups, are the most confident of carrying off the trophy for a sixth time.

Two-thirds of them believed they would win the World Cup in South Africa, compared to 48 percent of Argentinians, 15 percent of Chileans and 12 percent of Mexicans, according to a survey commissioned by Brazil's Ibope polling firm.

"Before I came to live here I supported Brazil, but now I can't stand the arrogance and don't want them to win," saidAmilka Monjaras, a 35-year-old teacher from El Salvador who lives in Rio de Janeiro, proving that regional affinity only goes so far. "It would be the same if I lived in Argentina."

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