Latin America

In July 1990, a controversial late penalty by Andreas Brehme won the World Cup for Germany and snatched the title from Argentina. As a boy growing up in Buenos Aires, I can still remember vividly Diego Maradona’s inconsolable tears as the selección limped off the pitch of Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

Those were my tears too. But 24 years later, there is a chance finally to erase that childhood trauma. On Sunday, Argentina faces Germany in a World Cup final once again.

As a fan of la albiceleste I can’t really complain. During my lifetime Argentina have won two World Cups, including beating West Germany in the 1986 final, and produced some of the finest players in recent years, from Maradona to today’s hero, Lionel Messi.

I was a year old, and living relatively close to the River Plate stadium, when Argentina beat Holland in the 1978 World Cup final. When they did it again eight years later in Mexico, I was old enough to realise what it meant and to feel the country’s intoxicated joy as Maradona raised the trophy above his head in the sunny Estadio Azteca. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Two national tragedies struck Brazil late last week. In the city of Belo Horizonte, an overpass collapsed, killing two people. The following day, Brazil played Colombia in the quarter final of the World Cup. Brazil won the match – but Neymar, the team’s star and national posterboy, suffered a back injury that will keep him out of the rest of the tournament.

It was a fateful moment in Colombia’s long and troubled history of drug-fueled violence. On July 2 1994 Andrés Escobar, captain of the national football team, was shot six times in the chest in the parking lot of a bar in Medellín.

The killing was supposedly retribution for Escobar scoring an own goal days earlier, which hastened the team’s departure from the World Cup in the US. As a historian friend says, there was always a lame excuse to kill someone in Colombia in those days. Read more

Brazilian players listen to their national anthem before a Group A football match between Brazil and Mexico in the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during the 2014 FIFA World Cup

(Photograph: AFP)

By Thalita Carrico

One week after the start of the World Cup, there seems little doubt

about where Brazilians’ loyalty lies. On days when the Seleção – the national team – is playing, São Paulo comes alive with people wearing their yellow and green jerseys and the streets are filled with the noise of horns used by soccer supporters.

After Brazilians staged massive protests last year during the
Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal event for the World Cup, the country put on hold any excitement over the 2014 tournament. As demonstrations this year against government spending on the World Cup allegedly at the expense of social services became more violent, people began to question whether Brazil was still the country of soccer. Read more

Uruguay's Luis Suarez celebrates scoring his team's second goal against England during their 2014 World Cup Group D soccer match at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo June 19, 2014

Credit: Reuters

By Simon Kuper in São Paulo

England deserve to go home early. A poor witless team was undone by Luis Suarez, who only a month ago was in hospital having a cartilage operation. After England’s defeat to Italy in Manaus on Saturday, they now have no points from two games. Even a thumping win against little Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday – of which this team do not look capable – would probably not be enough to save them. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Such is the power of incumbency, that over the past decade no Latin American president who has run for re-election has lost. Juan Manuel Santos, re-elected Colombia’s president on Sunday, has just re-confirmed that trend, although it was close. (An aside:Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who are also aiming for re-election this year, will be relieved.)

The clinchers for Santos, who won with 51 per cent of the vote in a presidential run-off against Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who took 45 per cent, were threefold. All of them have implications for Santos’ next term. Read more

 

Colombian soccer team fans sleep on Copacabana beach while waiting for the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup (Getty)

Colombians will elect a president on Sunday in an election widely seen as a plebiscite on talks with Farc rebels that could end a five-decades guerrilla insurgency.

But polls are so tight that they have failed to predict a clear winner between centrist President Juan Manuel Santos and conservative candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who won the first round. Some believe it will take something momentous to produce a runaway winner. Like football.

Colombians are among the world’s biggest football fans, and they will either be cheering or sobbing as they head to vote after the country’s first World Cup match the day before against Greece, its first Cup match in 16 years. Read more

Brazil 3 (Neymar Jr 29, 71 penalty; Oscar 90)

Croatia 1 (Marcelo own goal 11)

By Simon Kuper in Sâo Paulo

This was the joyous start the World Cup needed. After all the Brazilian anger about wasteful spending, and Fifa’s anger at Brazil’s tardy preparations, this was a surprisingly attacking, open, cheering game.

It was also played in perfect conditions: the stadium looked ready, the weather handily cooled off just before kickoff, and Brazil’s players and crowd got us into the mood by continuing to belt out the national anthem for half a minute after the music had stopped. Read more

At a recent show at the British Library in London showcasing pre-Columbian gold, a Colombian diplomat noted that his countrymen were “very concerned about their image and public relations.”

Until a decade ago, Colombia was mostly associated with guerrillas and drug kingpins such as Pablo Escobar. All of that has changed.

But the country still suffers from a public relations failure at the local level. As Colombia’s image abroad continues to improve, thanks in large part to the main players in the current election campaign, the view Colombians have of their own nation is growing ever more negative, partly because of those same men. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

In this dispatch, Andres Schipani, the FT’s Andes correspondent, gives his account of a visit this month to Venezuela, where protests over the past month against the socialist regime of president Nicolás Maduro have left at least 33 people dead. Read more