Pele’s legacy lives on

Four South American teams are
through to the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time since 1930.

Hosts Uruguay were triumphant then,
although, facing a three-week journey by boat, only four European teams entered
the competition.

In 2010, there are no excuses to
dilute the achievements of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, who will
play the Netherlands, Germany, Ghana and Spain in their respective
quarter-finals in South Africa.

This may be Africa’s World Cup off
the pitch, but it is South America’s on it.

The similarity between the South
American teams goes well beyond their shared culture. They all represent – to
varying degrees – the same football philosophy. The way of playing puts ability
before physicality and rewards improvisation and dribbling instead of punishing
it.

It is a type of football that Spain
played en route to being crowned European champions in 2008 but which is seen
all year round in South America.

There are differences within this
philosophy, of course. On one side, there is the hunger for possession from
Argentina. On the other is the physical prowess of Uruguay and Paraguay.
Perhaps in the middle lie Brazil, who possess a touch of beauty and a touch of
beast.

All four teams have graduated from
a school that teaches players to cherish the ball, to hold it as much as
possible. It is not just about flicks and tricks but opening up teams with
quick one-twos and starving the opponents of possession.

Some South American and Spanish
journalists ask with bewilderment why a player like England’s Joe Cole is not
used more often. He is viewed as a classic number 10 – a number that carries
the legacy of Pele, Diego Maradona, Zico and Enzo Francescoli.

Uruguay and Paraguay can capitalise
on the fact that they are often underestimated. Teams forget Uruguay have
amazing strikers while Paraguay are good at passing the ball long distances and
have a strong defence. Still, no one expected them to do this well in South
Africa.

Uruguay and Paraguay are teams that
South Americans like to call ‘coperos’ – they perform well in tournaments like
the World Cup.

Argentina have superb players who
know what to do on the pitch but they needed a leader who could bring spirit to
the team.

Coach Maradona seems to have
settled into the job. Argentina can go far and are favourites to beat Germany,
especially given the Germans are not looking that great in defence.

As for Brazil, Dunga is beginning
to win over the country’s fans. The way the team played in the 3-0 defeat of
Chile in the last 16 – with Ramires and Daniel Alves in the starting line-up –
delivered more of the football that Brazilians enjoy.

Dunga has had some great
results in the last four years. Winning the World Cup is really his main target
now. It is not impossible that all four South American sides could be in the
finals next week.

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