In my Guatemalan American family, soccer is such an obsession that "gol!" was my daughter's first word. Are there any soccer obsession stories in your family?
My great-grandfather helped bring the first World Cup to Uruguay. Most of my family are fans of Nacional [one of the two dominant teams in Uruguay]. I’m a fan of Peñarol [Nacional’s bitter rival]. That’s because when I was a kid, my uncle bought me the shirt of this fantastic player called Fernando Morena. He once scored seven goals in one match. He was also known as “El Pajama,” because he was only good playing at home. We’ve always been obsessed with football. Being Uruguayan, it’s something that defines us, more so than any other country on the continent.
Uruguay has some of the highest rates of literacy in the world. For much of its history, it's been a country with a stable middle class. How is it that a sport is so tied up with its national identity?
For most of the first half of the 20th century, the quality of football in Brazil was below that of Argentina and Uruguay. By 1950, Brazil was hosting the World Cup. By all rights, they should have won that tournament, but of course they lost. After that, they left nothing to chance. When they won the World Cup in 1958, in Sweden, it was with a team of white, black and mixed-race players that included Pelé. Brazil had only abolished slavery in 1888 -- but the writer Nelson Rodriguez said a certain kind of racism was put to bed the day Brazil first won the World Cup. Thereafter, in quick succession, they won in 1962 and 1970, which was the moment when the sport reached its apex. They won the 1970 World Cup in Mexico City playing this wonderful, free-flowing football. Watch Uruguay-Brazil in the semifinals of that World Cup. Pelé “dummies” [a soccer term for a misdirection or feint] Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, the Uruguayan goalkeeper. He missed the goal. But it didn’t matter. The way he went around the keeper epitomizes a wonderful style of play. From then on, football has become a game of diminishing returns. As football has become more professionalized, it’s become less romantic.
Who is the greatest South American player of all time: Pelé, Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi?
Who's going to win this World Cup?