Latin Americans cheering for each other _ for now

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Latin Americans are cheering for each other at the World Cup. But that camaraderie will disappear in a few days when the knockout games arrive.

For now, there's Latin fusion.

Brazilian Samba is drowned out by Mexican Mariachi or by Cumbias from Colombia. Mexicans roam around in giant, drooping sombreros. Argentines wear masks depicting Maradona, Lionel Messi or Pope Francis. Uruguayans lug around thermos bottles of hot water for their famous herbal tea, called mate.

Latin Americans have felt at home in Brazil, and the results show.

Four have already clinched a spot in the knockout stage — Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica. And four more have a chance to make the final 16: Uruguay, Mexico, Ecuador and host Brazil.

Fans from neighboring countries have swarmed into Brazil — in buses, vans, and at least one on a bicycle all the way from Mexico.

Argentines blanketed Rio's Copacabana beach, spilling out of trucks and motorhomes parked from one end to the other along the 4-kilometer-long (2.5-mile) promenade. Most arrived without tickets. About 50,000 were encamped in Rio, and the Argentine embassy expects 100,000 for the final group match against Nigeria on Wednesday in Porto Alegre.

Fans have hugged, drank, danced in costumes and belted out a cappella renditions of national anthems at the kickoff. Stadiums have been deafening, driven partly by passionate Latinos.

"The influx of Latin American supporters is above our expectations," said Roberto Alzir, a top Rio de Janeiro state security official in charge of policing the World Cup.

There have also been a few ugly street scenes, one with Brazilians and Argentines in Belo Horizonte hurling beer bottles and insults at each other. In Rio, about 100 Chileans fans rampaged through the Maracana media area, and at least 10 Argentine fans were detained after jumping fences at the famous stadium to see their team play Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"When they said the World Cup would be in Brazil, we started packing," said Argentine Juan Jose Martinez, who drove 36 hours in a van non-stop from Cordoba, Argentina, with friend Pedro Luis Esquivel and two others.

It's been costly. Argentina's recent debt crisis has seen the peso plunge in value against Brazil's real.

Munching on a fast-food burger and fries, the two estimated the price for the meal in Brazil was four times that in Argentina.

"It's not Brazil's fault," said Martinez, who works as a casino croupier. "It's the fault of Argentina with the wrecked economy we have. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so you do it."

The next two World Cups in Russia and Qatar will be too far away, not to mention language problems. Though Brazilians speak Portuguese, Spanish speakers can usually communicate with them— or guess what's being said.

"I feel very at home here," said Cristhian Recalde, who traveled from Guayaquil, Ecuador, with his brother Roger.

"I spent 1 1/2 years in Europe— in Spain. They speak Spanish, but I did not feel as welcome there."

The World Cup is a double treat for many — football and vacation.

Roger Recalde called the World Cup one of South America's "natural wonders." He listed it with Iguazu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina; Machu Picchu in Peru; and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

"I had a list of the places I wanted to go in South America, and I can check Brazil and the World Cup off the list," he said.

Unless they are playing against another Latin team, everyone seems to be cheering for neighbors.

"This is a cup where we want the South American continent to win," Roger said.

The charity may end when the knockout round starts Saturday.

Mexico or Brazil could face Chile. Colombia could get Uruguay or Costa Rica. Argentina might play Ecuador.

In 2010, three of the four semifinalists were European. In 2006, all four were. But Latin fans can be encouraged. All previous six World Cups held in Latin America have been won by Latin Americans.

Many Argentines say, if eliminated, they would root for any Latin American team, except Chile, which sided with Britain during the 1982 Falklands War.

Other Latin Americans are willing to cheer for others — but not Argentina.

"We know the reputation of Argentines is not to so good around Latin America," said Martinez, the casino croupier. He blamed that on residents of the capital Buenos Aires, who like big-city dwellers in New York or Paris, can be disliked in the rest of the country.

Pedro Astudillo and his wife Paola Zuleta traveled from Antofagasta in the far north of Chile with son Nicolas and daughter Valentina.

The boys took in a game.

"And the girls went shopping," Pedro said.

The trip cost 6 million Chilean pesos, or $11,000.

Mexican brothers Francisco Sanchez and Alfredo Machuca, from the U.S.-Mexico border city of Matamoros, said they would support any Latin American team if Mexico were eliminated.

"But to be honest, we identify more with people in Colombia than others from the south like Uruguay, Argentina or Brazil," Sanchez said.

His brother, wearing a green Mexico shirt, chimed in.

"We have our tequila, and Colombians have guaro — or aguardiente — which we love."

The United States and England are often described as two countries separated by a common language. Sanchez said Spanish-speakers face the same problem.

The Spanish word "buey" can be one source of confusion. The word, pronounced like "whey," means ox or, specifically, a castrated bull. Mexicans toss it out as a jestful insult to such an extent it's become equivalent to the American slang "dude."

Non-Mexicans are puzzled when they hear themselves being spoken to as cattle.

"That confuses for sure," Sanchez said. "It would sound like you're calling someone an animal."


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