'Won't cheer for you, Argentina,' say some Latin Americans
By Alexandra Ulmer
SANTIAGO - Though Argentina carry Latin America's only hope of lifting the World Cup, many in the region are balking at the prospect of their "insufferable" peer landing the ultimate football triumph.
The soccer-obsessed region is a house divided ahead of Sunday's showdown against Germany in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium. While it seems Latin American loyalty has a slight upper hand, a significant number of fans also say they cannot stomach an "albiceleste" (white-and-blue) victory.
"I don't want the Argentines slobbering about how they're champions, that they won in Brazil, their biggest rival, and that they have one trophy more than we have," said Alberto Scaglia, a 44-year-old shopkeeper in Montevideo, Uruguay, a small nation often dwarfed by its imposing Argentine neighbor.
"I'd be happy for South America to be in the finals, aside from Argentina," added Scaglia, who will be rooting for Germany.
Argentina, which has a significant population of European extraction and in the 1930s was one of the world's richest countries, has a reputation for arrogance in much of historically poorer, more racially-mixed Latin America.
"If the Argentines win they're going to be insufferable," said Juan Carlos Chavez, 37, a publicist in Bogota, Colombia. "They have a pope, the Queen of Holland - they can't have the World Cup too!" he exclaimed in reference to Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, and Argentine-born Queen Maxima.
That sentiment has found an echo in Brazilian stadiums via the chant "Latin America, except for Argentina!"
To be sure, many in Hispanic Latin America, which shares language, history and cultural references, say they will back Argentina, like a cousin with whom you may have differences but remains family at the end of the day.
"They're arrogant, they're stuck up, they're all of that, but they're Latin American," said Elizabeth Solar, a 61 year-old retired accountant in Santiago, Chile.
"We're brothers, we're Latinos, we have to support them. I was raised that way, that's what I was taught at school."
Many Latin Americans relate to the often poor upbringing of local players and are mesmerized by their ascent to global fame. The region tends to close ranks around them, especially when the rival is an affluent, distant European country such as Germany.
TANGO-ING TO ANOTHER TUNE
But many would rather have closed ranks around other smaller, surprise Latin American teams, and there is disappointment that it is familiar Argentina, already a two-time World Cup winner, who got so far.
"It would have been beautiful if Colombia or the 'Ticos' (from Costa Rica) had made it to the finals," lamented Maria Angelina Tello, 68, a housewife in Lima, Peru. She too will be rooting for Germany on Sunday, in part because she feels Peruvian immigrants face discrimination in Argentina.
Latin American angst about Argentina only really reaches fever pitch in Brazil, where already devastated fans are horrified at the thought of their archrivals hoisting a Cup they had hoped to win on home turf.
While Argentine egos are often the target of jokes in the region, most Spanish-speaking Latinos are quick to point out they have Argentine friends or relatives, admire Lionel Messi, grew up to the beat of Argentine rock or delight in Malbec wine.
Sympathy for Argentina also increased after its disastrous 2002 default, which threw millions into poverty.
In a further shift, much of Latin America is posting brisk commodities-led economic growth while Argentina slid into recession in the first quarter.
"I support Argentina unconditionally... They need it right now," said Ruben Fernandez, a 62-year-old former marine in Santiago. "They're doing very badly economically. They're eating stale bread. The World Cup will raise their self-esteem. The Germans don't need to win."
Football purists counter Germany may not need to win, but its efficient, organized squad deserves the title.
"(German football) is not so flamboyant like Latin American football but it is focused," said Francisco Ramirez Ramos, a 24- year-old lawyer in Venezuela. "They are always organized. The midfielders are always in their place. It's like synchronized swimming."
Indeed, the well-oiled, consistent 'Mannschaft' team stands in contrast to a sometimes volatile Argentina heavily dependent on Messi. That too appeals to some in the at times politically tumultuous region, where many admire perceived German qualities of organization and stability.
Still, there is a push from local figureheads, including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and leading sports writers, to put aside differences and place Latin America first.
"Chileans, let's be Argentines this Sunday," wrote sports journalist Diego Bastarrica. "Go out to win," he urged his neighbors, "so we can celebrate together like brothers."
Additional reporting by Malena Castaldi in Montevideo, Felipe Iturrieta in Santiago, Peter Murphy and Eyanir Chinea in Caracas, Mitra Taj in Lima and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne