WORLD CUP : Latin America out to conquer Europe

Frankfurt, May 27 :

On June 9, 2006, South America’s finest will begin their quest to conquer the footballing world on European soil, a feat achieved only once before, by Brazilians at Sweden 1958.

The signs are that this could well be their year once more, especially if the continent’s big guns can recapture the form shown at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Germany, when they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they feel right at home playing and winning on the old continent.

This year there will be only four South American countries trying to emulate a feat last achieved by Pele & Co, in contrast to the five who took part in France 98, the last time the FIFA World Cup was held on European soil. Nevertheless, Argentina , Brazil , Ecuador and Paraguay all have the pedigree and motivation to dream of glory in Germany.

For many years now the traditional difficulties experienced by South American sides in Europe have been gradually diminishing Proof of this changing pattern can be found in the performances of the region’s sides on the last two occasions FIFA’s showpiece event was held in Europe, with Argentina and Brazil finishing runners-up at Italia 90 and France 98 respectively.

A closer look at some South American squads shows the influence of the countries’ foreign legions. Take the case of Argentina. Except for the goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri, who plays in the country’s domestic league, all the remaining players in Jose Pekerman’s probable starting XI are Europe-based.

Albiceleste Juan Pablo Sorin, who left his country’s shores many years ago, explained the positive aspect of playing the tournament in Europe. “I believe it’s always better to play in the environment where you are based. Not just because it’s familiar and you have your family around you, but also because it helps the squad to adapt better. It will be easier here than in Japan.”

It is not just South America’s big two, Brazil and Argentina who will be flying the flag in Germany. Perennial battlers Paraguay and Luis Fernando Suarez’s experienced Ecuador side will be doing their bit to reach the game’s summit too. “We’ll be arriving with high expectations of springing a surprise,” said Paraguay coach Anibal Ruiz.

“Maybe we don’t stay in five-star hotels or have all the luxuries of some sides, but we know what we’re capable of and believe we can go further than in previous tournaments,” added Ruiz.

Another coach well qualified to speak on the subject is Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazilian who led his country to the title at Korea/Japan 2002 and who now, under the Portuguese flag, is aiming to repeat the feat on his own doorstep.

“Undoubtedly, it has been especially difficult for the South American sides to triumph here, but I don’t think there are specific reasons for this other than the weight of history,” he said. “This tournament won’t be easy for either Argentina or Brazil – just as it won’t be easy for Portugal – but I believe both have a great chance of reaching the latter stages.”

On the subject of Brazil, it is worth looking at the result of a survey carried out by the country’s Lance! newspaper, which tried to gauge the confidence of the Brazilian public ahead of the finals in Germany. Eighty per cent said Carlos Alberto Parreira’s team would repeat their success of 2002.