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Will Brazil’s bitter foes Argentina salvage Latin American pride?

A poster in Buenos Aires hails Brazil's shock defeat: "It's not raining, it's Brazil crying". Photo: AFP

Shell-shocked Brazilians prepare to host the second World Cup semi-final on Wednesday with old foes Argentina posing as unlikely flag-bearers for a continent in distress.

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It had all started so promisingly for Latin American football.

In the group stages, Chile, Uruguay and minnows Costa Rica had seen off the likes of Spain, Italy and England, to raucous applause from stadiums packed with local fans.

As Europe’s fallen giants limped out of the tournament one by one, the World Cup was rapidly turning into one big, festive Copa America.

But then the tide turned in the second round – in part because Latin American squads were forced to knock each other out.

The impressive Chileans and Colombians fell to Brazil in knife-edge encounters that highlighted the hosts' weaknesses and ultimately cost them their star players Neymar and Thiago Silva.

Meanwhile, Mexico and Costa Rica suffered heartbreaking defeats against Louis Van Gaal’s diehard Dutch.

After Brazil’s 7-1 humbling by Germany on Tuesday, Argentina are now the last survivors from the continent’s once numerous contingent.

South America’s least loved

In many ways, Leo Messi & Co make for unlikely heroes.

The Albiceleste is traditionally the team least loved by neighbouring countries.

As the New York Times’ Simon Romero and Jonathan Gilbert reported at the start of the tournament, most football fans surveyed in several Latin American countries said they would root against Argentina at the World Cup.

Wednesday's clash has been billed as a battle between Holland's Arjen Robben (left) and Lionel Messi of Argentina.
Wednesday's clash has been billed as a battle between Holland's Arjen Robben (left) and Lionel Messi of Argentina.

Historically, regional animosity towards Argentina has been rooted in the country’s perceived arrogance and claims to cultural and economic superiority.

Immigration from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries added a racial dimension to the rivalry, with Argentinian fans often accused of taunting darker-skinned players from neighbouring countries.

Unsurprisingly, Brazilian crowds at the current World Cup have consistently supported Argentina’s opponents, be they Belgian, Bosnian or Nigerian.

But will the jeers aimed at Lionel Messi turn into cheers for the continent on Wednesday night?

American cups stay in America

A defeat for Argentina would shatter one long-established rule: that World Cups hosted on Latin American soil should stay on Latin American soil.

Uruguay won the first two tournaments held on the continent, at home in 1930 and in Brazil two decades later.

Brazil won at Chile 1962, Mexico 1970 (and USA 1994) while Argentina lifted the trophy on home turf in 1978 then repeated the feat in Mexico eight years later.

Incidentally, the 1978 final was won against Wednesday’s opponent Holland – albeit inside the familiar grounds of Buenos Aires’s Estadio Monumental.

History suggests the Albiceleste will enjoy no such support when they take on the Dutch Oranje in Sao Paulo.

But the home crowd may find it has at least one good reason not to rejoice from a defeat for their old foes.

After all, the last thing they need is another humiliation for the Seleçao in the third-place match – against Argentina.

Watch FRANCE 24's TV report from Amsterdam, where Oranje fans hope for another shot at the World Cup

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