Chile merchandise on sale on the streets of Rio de Janeiro
The blue and white is ubiquitous on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, but another Latin American country is running a close third behind Brazil and their big rivals.
Supporters of Chile have been notable for their very strong presence, right from the days leading up to the tournament. Draped in the national flag, singing 'Ole Ole Ole Ole, Chile, Chile', they are a noisy and boisterous crowd, constantly breaking into song in large groups.
There are an estimated 100,000 Chileans living in Brazil, but most of the fans have travelled and are making as much noise about it as possible.
On Monday night, the streets of Lapa were teeming. And Chileans were the dominant faction, with Argentines nursing their hangovers following Sunday’s victory over Bosnia.
Dominating the bars and open squares, singing loudly and even setting up stalls to sell their own merchandise, Jorge Sampaoli’s highly-rated side are the fashionable outside bet for success at these finals.
Led by Alexis Sanchez, they are fluid, exciting, quick and amusingly vulnerable at the back. They are a hoot to watch, and their fans are doing their best to match their team’s antics.
Chile face defending champions Spain on Wednesday. And the contrast between their support could not be more marked.
Ticket touts, having initially set the price high for spares, look set to drop them with the majority of ticket hunters wearing white and blue with their red.
Spain, meanwhile, could not offer a starker contrast. I spotted hundreds – possibly thousands – of Chile supporters that night, but only a dozen or so obvious Spaniards.
Chile fans are taking over bars and streets of Rio de Janeiro
I say 'obvious Spaniards' because, while most Chileans wear colours, there were admittedly some Iberians in civvies. Tired of being the butt of all jokes after their hammering by the Dutch? Or just more comfortable in bar wear?
Javier, from Madrid, was not so sure. “Only a few of my friends have come. No-one has any f***ing money.”
The statistics back it up. Spain, despite being the reigning champions, did not even make the top 10 of ticket purchases.
The United States were a surprise second behind hosts Brazil, who snapped up around 60% of the tickets, in excess of 1.3m. The Americans were pushing 200,000 at time of writing, although not all of them are supporting the US, and they are more visible on Copacabana than in the bohemian quarters.
“I’m actually Bosnian,” said a man in a Landon Donovan shirt after watching the USA win over Ghana in a bar-restaurant by the beach. “I live in the US and am supporting the US tonight, but I’m here for Bosnia.”
Giancarlo, from New York but originally Colombian, said his group of around 10 friends was divided.
“Half of us are supporting Colombia, he’s from Salvador and doesn’t care, and the rest are supporting the US. We all saved up something like $30 a week for four years and it meant we could come to Brazil.
“It’s totally worth it. We’re spending about $6000 dollars each for a week of World Cup in Brazil. It’s amazing.”
The USA’s relative wealth – and proximity – is forming a heady mix with 'soccer’s' renewed popularity. It seems the Beckham effect has worked.
“Most of us haven’t got tickets,” one admitted. “And many won’t pay what the guys selling want. But we’re here to party.”
It is unclear whether Spain’s muted showing is a result of economic woes, a symbol of being spoilt by success, or symptomatic of a wider reluctance to travel for international football. It’s like a combination of all three, although Australia's strong presence (approximately 52,000 ticket holders, although given the travel one assumes few have arrived without bookings) hints that a powerful economy helps when the World Cup is on the wrong side of the world for most.
I came across this packed outdoor restaurant, which suddenly burst into song for Chile. There were hundreds sat outside.
Later, on Selaron's Steps (where I am staying while in Rio), a large group of young men perched on the winding, painted staircase, drinking and smoking into the small hours, spontaneously broke into song. It was an appropriate street occupation, as Rio's most iconic street artwork was in fact created by a Chilean immigrant, who sadly died last year after his creation turned a favela into a trendy hangout.
It continued long into the night:
Chile have the form and the backing. And with Spain's World Cup hopes lying in the balance on Wednesday, they need all the support they can get.
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