South America’s football map mirrors its political one—two colossal powers edged by small, peripheral outcrops. Perhaps those lines will be redrawn.

The build-up to the World Cup was obsessively focused on Argentina and Brazil, and on their respective brightly burning stars Lionel Messi and Neymar. Add new names: Chile, Colombia, Uruguay. Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, James Rodríguez, Juan Guillermo Cuadrado (the Colombian may join Neymar and Messi at Barcelona), Edinson Cavani. This World Cup’s story is the tale of South America’s resurgence on the field.

The minnows and the giants are already set up for a critical clash—Brazil will face Vidal and Sanchez’s rampaging Chile for a place in the quarter-finals. A couple of weeks back predictions for any match featuring the two would have been confidently on the side of Brazil—the two sides had met at the same stage at the 2010 World Cup, when Brazil won 3-0—but not any more.

The Chileans are the red-hot brand for this World Cup’s preferred style of play: the counter-attack. Urged on by their impressively bicep-ed coach Jorge Sampaoli, Chile first turned around a qualifying campaign, which was on the brink. Then, in their second match, they drove Spain, the defending champions, out of the World Cup. That too was symbolic of deeper changes: Spain’s possession and passing based game, the famous tiki-taka, was exposed as pedestrian and lifeless, and then usurped by the unending waves of Chile’s high-octane counter-attacking play. Old continent, indeed.

It’s a style that the other South American teams have adopted as well. Neither Colombia nor Uruguay are fussy about possession. They would rather sit back patiently, and then release their fiery and speedy forwards at just the right moment.

Colombia: What a fascinating team! Out of the drug-and-mafia darkness, and dancing into the light of the beautiful game. There have been inevitable comparisons to their extraordinary team from the 1990 World Cup, led by the brilliant Carlos Valderrama and his band of Fabulous Furry Freaks. Could it be that the current squad is even more talented (they are certainly more disciplined)? James Rodriguez, who wears Valderrama’s No.10, and Cuadrado have already done wonders but look at those who were not first choice for the playing XI: Jackson Martínez, the leading scorer in Portugal last season with 29 goals for Porto, and Adrián Ramos, signed by Borussia Dortmund to replace the prolific Robert Lewandowski, were given a run only in Colombia’s last (and inconsequential) group match.

Of the six South American teams in the World Cup, only tiny Ecuador have not managed to make it out of the group stage.

Close