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Saturday, July 3, 2010
Anything but Southern Comfort

By Jemele Hill

JOHANNESBURG -- The last 48 hours have been rough for South American World Cup favorites.

A day after Brazil was ousted, South America's hopes of capturing the World Cup took another serious blow when the Germans humiliated Argentina in Cape Town and Spain defeated Paraguay, leaving just one South American team in the semifinals.

South America's sudden freefall has been shocking and surprisingly swift, particularly when you consider how South American teams dominated most of the World Cup. Prior to the start of the quarterfinals, the continent was gloating, with four of the eight survivors coming from South America for the first time since 1930. The only South American team from the round of 16 that didn't make the quarterfinals was Chile, which lost to Brazil.

Now, the only South American team to survive is Uruguay, whose win over Ghana was arguably the best game of the World Cup. Uruguay will meet the Netherlands in the semifinals.

Given all the hype, South America is understandably reeling, with the dream of having an all-South American final for the first time no longer possible. A loss in the quarters might be acceptable on some continents, but not this one. When a journalist asked colorful Argentina coach Diego Maradona if he was pleased with how far his team had made it, Maradona quipped: "Are you joking? This is a country where you live and breathe football. I don't think that anyone will be happy when the team loses 4-0."

It had to be sobering for South Americans to see their heavyweights, Brazil and Argentina, thrashed so thoroughly. Germany embarrassed the Argentines with its quickness and overwhelmed star Lionel Messi, who couldn't manage a single goal at the World Cup.

Messi, though, wasn't the only South American superstar who failed to produce a memorable tournament. The Netherlands handled five-time World Cup-winner Brazil -- the leading favorite to win it all -- 2-1. Kaka had a second consecutive disappointing World Cup, managing eight shots and zero goals.

"The loss really hurts this time, much more than in 2006," Kaka said. "This one really got to us, there is a lot of pain, because of all that we had done so far, because of where we thought we could get."

Adding to South America's woeful last couple of days was Paraguay's 1-0 loss to Spain on Saturday night. Although Paraguay wasn't under the same microscope as Brazil and Argentina, the loss to Spain was the fifth time the team had been shut out in a knockout-stage game.

"This is the most difficult experience of my life, because to [lose] in front of so many good players, such good people, such good professionals is like getting punched by Muhammad Ali," Maradona said. "I don't have any energy left."

When South America had half of the quarterfinal spots locked up, all anybody heard was how South America's style of play was superior to any other continent.

But in the end, the South Americans were shown up by Europe, which has three of the four semifinal teams, greatly improving the odds that a European team will win the World Cup outside of Europe for the first time.

"Without a doubt, everyone was sad, we didn't expect it to end like this," Brazil coach Dunga said.

Jemele Hill can be reached at