Sports in Latin America and for U.S. Latinos!



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Soccer and Latin America

For one to understand where soccer is in American society, one must understand where it is and has been in Latin America . Soccer (fútbol/ futebol) is the most popular sport in the world both as a spectator sport and as a participant sport.There are more than 30,000,000 people participating in organized competitions around the world ( 1 ). Most of the world is crazy for this sport—from the deserts of Bahrain to the metropolises of São Paulo and Milan .

There are few places on earth where soccer has taken such a pivotal place in society as it has in non-Caribbean Latin America . It is ingrained into every little bit of society. Babies have their rooms decorated with logos, and every father's dream is that their children cheer for the same team as them.

Little kids grow up playing soccer with their friends. Many of them always battle to be the attackers in those games—since the most important Latino and Latin soccer stars tend to play beyond the midfield line. Very seldom do children choose to be defenders or goalies. They want to be like Ronaldo and Tevez, not like defensive greats such as Rocha or Gamarra. Brasil and Argentina “export” more players to Europe than any other country.

Latin American countries and teams have always played a very important role in the international soccer scene. Every year the best soccer club of Latin America plays the best European club. There have been forty-six “Intercontinental Club Championship”, better known as the “Toyota Cup”.

This page will break down how soccer is important in each region or country of Latin America (excluding the “Latinized” part of the United States ).



“O país do futebol”—the country of soccer. A country whose canary yellow jersey can be recognized from miles away, and which forces people to immediately react to it. At any time of day you can find people playing “futebol”.

There is no other country where soccer has been so successful. Brasil is one of three Latin countries to win a World Cup—the most important competition of the sport. It is the only country to make it to 7 world cup finals and to win 5 world cups—1958 ( Sweden ), 1962 ( Chile ), 1970 ( Mexico ), 1994 (USA), and 2004 (Korea/Japan). Brasil is the only country to win a World Cup outside of its hemisphere!

Brasil's international success can be highly attributed to its excellent soccer league, which rivals Argentina 's and Europe 's leagues. IFFHS ranks Brasil's league to be fourth hardest league in the world—ranking it among the multi-million euro rich European leagues (just for reference purposes, the US-based MLS league is not even among the world's top 50) ( 2 ). Coby Jones, possibly the best US born soccer player ever, declared, "This definitely has me playing at one of the top levels in the world” when he went to play in the Brasilian league for Vasco da Gama of Rio de Janeiro ( 3 ). Brasil's national league has such famous teams as São Paulo Futebol Clube (SPFC) and Santos FC—two time Toyota Cup champions. Other famous teams are Corinthians-MSI (previously known as Corinthians FC), Palmeiras FC, Atletico Paranaense, etc…

Brasil's league has also produced some of the world's greatest players (Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, was the most skilled soccer player ever ( 4 ). To this day he is known as “O Rei” (ie. The King). He is a royal knight of the British court, a citizen of the world (title given to him by the United Nations), was named the athlete of the century, and is a National “monument” of Brasil. He also has a statue in India, a stadium named after him in Iran, a street in Montivideo, Uruguay, and a square named after him in Los Angeles ( 5 ) Pelé leads the IFFHS rankings as best player of all times ( 6 ). He led Santos FC to two Intercontinental Club Championship titles in the 60's and Brasil to its first three championships. More will be mentioned on Pelé in another section, since he is partially responsible for the growing success of soccer in the USA .

Other famous players include Arthur Friendrich, Leônidas “Diamante Negro” da Silva (the inventor of the most beautiful play in soccer—the bicycle kick), Garrincha, Falcão, Zico, Romário, Sócrates, Raí, and many others. Nowadays Brasilian players still dominate the soccer scene. Ronaldo is arguably the most famous. Ronaldinho Gaucho this year was in the run for best player in the European League ( 7 ). Other new talents include Roberto Carlos, Luis Fabiano, Adriano, Julio Baptista, and others—all worth tens of millions of Euros.

A final interesting note on Brasilian soccer involves talking about the stadiums. Three of the world's largest soccer stadiums are in Brasil. The Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro is the world's largest soccer stadium (fits over 122, 260 people) and the Minerão in Belo Horizonte fits around 100, 000 people(7). The world's largest private stadium is in São Paulo . It is the Estádio Cicero Pompeu de Toledo, better known as the Morumbi. SPFC plays there. It used to be able to fit around 160,000 people, but the amounts of seats were cut in half to increase comfort and safety ( 8 ) .


Argentina :

Argentina is also known is the other great soccer nation. There are two times world-cup champions and have one of the world's strongest leagues ( 3 ). They have won the world cup in Argentina and in Mexico . Argentina is Brasil's eternal rival in soccer—a rivalry equivalent to that of the Wolverines and the Buckeyes. When Argentina was eliminated from the 2002 World Cup in the group stage, Brasilians celebrate as if they had won the world cup.

Argentina 's league, as aforementioned, is among the strongest in the world. Many of the world's most famous teams come from Argentina : Boca Juniors, River Plate, Rosario , etc… Boca Juniors is among the greatest of these teams, as they are only the team to win the Intercontinental Club Championship 5 times.

While Brasil has Pelé, Argentina has Maradona. Argentines say that if Pelé is king, then Maradona is God Himself. Many consider him to be the greatest player of the 80's. He is so revered in Argentina that there is even a Church of Maradona . He was a master goal scorer. He played many years for Boca Juniors and then went onto play for Napoli ( Italy ) and there he ended up shining like very few others before him. Unlike Pelé, Maradona's career ended in the worst way possible—he was led off the field in the 1994 World Cup (USA) and was asked to participate in an Anti-Doping exam. There he tested positive for Ephedrine, a substance prohibited by FIFA (the governing body of Soccer). Maradona never returned to the Argentine national team, and only played for one of the least famous Argentine teams ( 9 ). Recently he has suffered from a severe addiction to cocaine and is currently being treated in Cuba for his drug dependency( 10 ).

Argentina has produced other great soccer players. Among those are Di Stéfano, Moreno , Pedernara, Carrizo, and many others. Today players such as Carlos “Carlitos” Tevez, Robert Ayala, and Crespo are among the best players in the world. Argentina has always had, and will probably always have a bright future in the sport.


Paraguay and Uruguay :

These two countries have seen better days in terms of soccer. They have both completely dominated South American soccer at times, and in Uruguay 's case, world soccer. Uruguay won two world cups: 1930 ( Uruguay ) and even upsetting Brasil in 1950, in the crowded Maracanã Stadium with over 200,000 people watching (in Brasil of course!) ( 7 ). Paraguay has never won a single world cup, but they have won an edition of Copa Americas. ( 11 ).

Paraguay 's greatest player was a goalie named Chilavert. He helped take Velez Sarsfield of Argentina to the Intercontinental Club Championship after upsetting SPFC in their quest for a third straight title. He was famous for being one of the first goalies to actually shoot foul kicks and score, something usually reserved for field players! Uruguay has had many great players. Schiaffino, Cubilla, Varela, and Francescoli are among the most famous ( 3 ). Today, Uruguay is suffering in the World Cup qualifiers. They are not doing well, and probably won't make it to the 2006 Germany World Cup. Today their best players include Diego Lugano, Zalayeta, and Diego Forlan.


Chile , Bolivia , Ecuador , Peru :

Like Paraguay they have seen better days. Their greatest achievements involve their club victories. Bolivia has produced many descent teams over the days, but with a weak economy the country cannot hold onto many good players, and that is sad. South American soccer is really becoming a competition between only Brasil and Argentina .


Columbia :

It also has seen better days. Right now the best aspect of Columbian soccer is a club called Once Caldas. They won the South American Club Championship (Copa Libertadores) and went onto play in the Intercontinental Club Championship. There they lost to FC do Porto of Portugal in the penalty shootout ( 12 ).


Venezuela and Carribean Latin Countries:

Venezuela and these countries do not really have much of a soccer tradition. Venezuela 's greatest “achievement” was having a player by the name of Alexander Rondón going to Brasil to play for SPFC. He really has not been used there, and will probably return to Venezuela at the end of the 2004( 13 ).


Mexico :

Outside of South America , Mexico is the only one to have a strong soccer tradition in Latin America. They are the only Latin American country to host two world cups. Mexico has never won a single world cup, but is always among the favorites.

Mexico has famous clubs: Chivas, Monterrey , UNAM, and others. Mexican clubs now play in the Libertadores Cup and have had relatively good success. Mexico has produced great players, among the most famous is the goalie Jorge Campos. He was short, and yet, was among the greatest ever. Mexico has a bright future in the world of soccer!


Central America :

Central America has always been on the soccer scene; however they never showed up strongly until recently. Costa Rica went to the last World Cup and came in third place (in the group stage) in a tough group which included to-be champion Brasil , Turkey , and new-comer China . The best Central American player right now is Costa-Rican Wanchope who plays for Málaga of Spain.

Central America was involved in the darkest moment of soccer's history. In 1969, Honduras and El Salvador went to war. There had been growing tension between these countries for years, but this soccer game was the straw on the Camel's back that sparked an ugly war. Over 2000 people died (14).

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