How Big Is Soccer in Latin America?

In Latin America, it is widely believed that all children are born balancing an imaginary football on top of their feet.

If you ever land in Lima, the capital of Peru, and notice national flags everywhere, it’s more likely linked to a football game, rather than Independence Day. We have made an art out passionate game commentary, and John Oliver once opened one his all-time best segments by comparing soccer (or football, if you are from the U.K.) to a religion.

Undoubtedly, there are a lot of tropes about soccer-obsessed South Americans and Spanish-Speaking Maradona worshippers. And most of these stereotypes are true – both in their fun, inspiring, and occasionally dark versions.

Photo by Valentin B. Kremer / Unsplash

At Lingopie, we believe foreign-language TV is a great way to learn about both culture and language. And it didn’t take us too long to find 3 shows that display the impact of El Deporte Rey (The King Sport) in Spanish-speaking Countries.

3 Ways in Which Soccer Can Shape our Lives

Soccer is a sport, an industry, and an everyday feature of our lives. Naturally, it also creates stories around it. For us fans, soccer can be:

#1 – A chance at making a difference: El Portero (“The Goalkeeper”)

This Spanish film was originally released in the year 2000, and it slowly became a cult classic. Why?

Mainly, because it combines a little bit of everything that creates great drama: a grim historical period, lost fame, love, and a few deceptions.

The Goalkeeper is the story of Ramiro Forteza, a famous goalkeeper who played in the National Team before the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). The War paralized his career, so by 1948, he is scraping by as an itinerant goalkeeper, going from village to village challenging locals to try to score a penalty against him.

Learn Spanish with a movie about soccer: El Portero
Uniforms used to be much more dapper back then

In one of these hamlets, he meets a woman who tempts him to settle down. As he gets involved with the locals, he is sucked into the ongoing conflict between the local Army and the remnants of the Resistance.

But what can a has-been with no talent other than sports do in such a scenario? A fair bit, turns out – from distracting key players to rallying an entire town with the promise of some normalcy.

#2 – The jewels of a nation: La Selección, El Juego de la Vida (“The National Team, The Game of Life)

This Colombian miniseries takes inspiration from the lives of 4 successful Colombian soccer players: René Higuita, Faustino Asprilla, Carlos Valderrama and Freddy Rincón. They all came from different corners of their country, but they all grew up surrounded by poverty and crime.

Thanks to their athletic talent, they rose first to lucrative local contracts, then to stardom in European clubs. Eventually, they became the leaders of the greatest generation of Colombian players. They historically beat Argentina 5-0 right before the 1992 World Cup – which is a huge deal – and made their nation dream again for the 1998 World Cup.

The series examines the difficult environments they wanted to escape growing up and the way they tried to help their local communities. However, in many ways, both players and team are just an allegory for Colombia as a whole, which was desperate for a chance to celebrate in the middle of a their political and drug-fueled violence.

#3 – The dark side: Tribunas Violentas (“Violent Stadiums”)

Just like a successful season can help a country dream, a poor result can also hurt and kill people. The darkest side of this are the “barras bravas”: clans of Hooligans who worship their local club, and respond violently to an unfavorable result.

Catharsis, maybe?

This Colombian documentary explores how the spirit of British Hooligans first crossed the pond into Argentina, where it became embedded in internal city politics. Then, it developed relatively independently in Colombia, Peru, and across Central America.

What is it about soccer that lends itself as an outlet for such strong emotions? What joins a group of people who can quickly turn a street carnival into an urban guerrilla?

So What Is Happening in the World Of Soccer These Days?

Glad you asked!

This is the perfect time to explore the South American love for football. On June 13th, the 47th Copa América (America Cup) was set to kick off in Argentina. This Championship, which is held every 4 years, in the most competitive international soccer championship in the region.

But now it may not happen!

The Championship had originally been scheduled for 2020, with Argentina and Colombia as hosts. Sixteen South American countries were ready to start training when, well, that virus happened and forced organizers CONMEBOL to postpone it for a year.

Remember when we thought COVID would be gone with the New Year?

In South America, 2021 opened with a deadly second wave and astronomically-high numbers. Initially, it was decided that the games would be played without an audience. However, there were still concerns about the safety of the technicians and support staff that accompany each team. Then, starting in April, a series of violent protests erupted in Colombia, forcing them to cancel their half of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Argentina is currently under a strict quarantine and ailing from sky-high fatality rates. Because of this, the organizers announced on Monday that the Cup would be completely cancelled. Some are hoping that Brazil or Paraguay will step up to fill the void – but with barely 10 days to go, this is looking unlikely.

Our Spanish team on Monday morning

Just like everything that has happened for the past 18 months, this Copa América (if it happens) will be different. Fortunately, we can always revisit the emotions that a tight soccer match can inspire.

These two movies and a TV series are all available on-demand at Lingopie. What are you waiting to subscribe?

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