Reda Maher

Brazil 360: Colombia quickly grab Chile’s mantle as darlings of World Cup

Reda Maher

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A Chile fan is despondent after the defeat by Brazil in Rio (AFP)

“Chi chi chi, le le le, viva Chile!” they chanted during a muggy evening on Saturday night. But they weren’t Chileans – a group of locals and USA fans were engaging in the ubiquitous chant that has been ringing out in Rio de Janeiro throughout the World Cup.

The USA fans may have travelled in the greatest (official) numbers; and Argentine fans are an enormous presence on game day; but Chileans had been the loudest, silliest and most obvious occupying force during this World Cup.

[CHILEANS PAINT TOWN RED, WHITE AND BLUE]

Part of that stems from part of Rio’s culture and history – those famous painted steps you keep seeing in coverage from Rio were created by a Chilean artist, and they had been occupied by his compatriots from day one.

I’ll have more on Mr Selaron another time, but that spot in Rio has become a congregation point for Spanish-speaking Latin American fans of all tribes.

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The Chilean presence was also notable down for its sheer weight of numbers – they were among the top five countries applying for tickets, and those without came along for the ride anyway, as seen when 300 of them tried to break into the win over Spain.

Having a successful, attractive team helps, of course; and having a bit of money – and the national pride to wear colours 24/7 – makes the fans more visible.

But they are gone now, and there are mixed feelings among all the other fans at the World Cup - even among the Brazilians themselves.

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A Colombian and an Italian living in Rio sell cocktails from their front yard

“It’s a shame we had to come second in the group – it would have been great for Brazil to play Chile later. Everyone has enjoyed them,” Joao told me.

A touching image emerged of Brazilians comforting a despondent Chile fan after the penalty shoot-out win yesterday.

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Generally, that has been the attitude of Brazil towards their Chilean friends – they’re happy to have them here, certainly more so than their Argentine and Uruguayan neighbours, where the rivalry runs deep and beyond football, and the fan culture is more aggressively macho and nationalistic.

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Fans were literally climbing up the walls after Colombia progressed

But another colourful, Latin vibe has emerged from the ashes of Chile’s exit.

The wonderful display from James Rodriguez saw Colombia through against Uruguay; they have arguably played the best football of the tournament, and look a better overall team than Carlos Valderrama and co’s classic but chaotic collective of the 1990s.

And they are out in force too, taking control of the aforementioned Selaron Steps and singing ‘Ole Ole, Ola Ola’ (no, not that dreadful official World Cup song, but their own Colombian chant) long into the night.

Many have come over from the United States – I have met two groups that flew over from Miami, where they work and study – as there is a sizeable Colombian community who have the cash to travel.

But most are from Cali, Bogota and other cities and towns in Colombia, flushed by an improving economy (one million citizens have been pulled out of poverty in recent years), at relative peace with the notorious Farc rebels - and, of course, with an excellent team to get behind despite the absence of national hero Radamel Falcao.

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This Colombian in a Dallas Cowboys hat was actually making a 'victory' sign at his friend

Colombia is unusual in that, like Argentina and Uruguay, it borders with Brazil, yet does not share as intense a rivalry.

Indeed, there is a kindred spirit – possible due to a shared rivalry with Argentina – and a mutual respect between cultures that share a similar, joyous, attractive attitude towards football, and dance.

Against Uruguay, the locals and Colombians sat side-by-side, and rushed to each other’s aid when some Uruguay fans lost their cool.

The cultures are both a mix of European, indigenous and African; carnival is a key social event; and both teams play stylish, technical football, draped in gold.

The Brazilians at the Maracana were largely supporting Colombia last night, but – as with the Chile clash – they have to face their friends for a place in the semi-finals.

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Colombia fans celebrate with other supporters after the win over Uruguay in Rio

“I find it kind of annoying that we have to play Colombia now,” Lucia, also Brazilian, admitted. “It would have been nice to get them in the final or not at all.”

It will be a shame whoever goes out.

Despite the World Cup’s interest in keeping the hosts alive for as long as possible, I would love to see Colombia progress – they have played much better football than Brazil, and in James Rodriguez we have witnessed the birth of a genuine superstar on the world stage.

Other neutrals are also looking to Colombia as the team to back - Pete, from England, admitted he loved the kit as much as anything, but of course wants to see Rodriguez go as far as possible.

Colombia will be well supported in Fortaleza on Friday. But the brotherhood with Brazil will be truly tested, as will the hosts’ team, who survived Alexis Sanchez but may struggle with the uncontrollable Rodriguez.

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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