SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - If you look to the stands during World Cup matches and see a bunch of Colombians supporting Panama or a group of Mexicans cheering on Brazil then don’t be surprised, your eyes are not deceiving you. In the World Cup, Latin America is a country.
Once every four years, Latinos put their differences aside to cheer on their neighbours and their erstwhile rivals.
That support may surprise Europeans – ask a Scotsman cheering on every one of England’s opponents – but for Latin Americans the desire to see the region do well takes precedence over internal rivalries.
“I’m from Central America but I’m wearing the Peruvian shirt in support. And if Peru doesn’t make it, I’ll support the next Latin country, and so forth,” said Wilson Castillo, a Salvadorean married to a Peruvian woman and living in Miami, home to a huge array of Latin immigrants.
“We always support the Latin American countries because we’re Hispanic and we have to always be united,” said his wife Jannys Castillo.
Latin American sides are know for having the most passionate fans and they hold a fair claim as the spiritual home of soccer.
The three players widely held to be the greatest of all time, Pele, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, are all from South America. Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have won the World Cup nine times between them, only two less than the 11 won between the European nations.
The Castillos and their two children came to Russia planning to see as many Latin sides as they can and they are not alone.
Across Russia, Latinos have turned out in droves to support their neighbours in what one fan termed as “Si, Se Puede (Yes, We Can).
Sales figures released a week before the tournament began showed five of the top 10 nations buying World Cup tickets were from Latin America and many of those buying from the U.S. were also Hispanic.
Peru fans overran Saransk ahead of their first match, Mexicans have spiced up Moscow with their irreverent chants and dress, while thousands of noisy Panamanians brought a Caribbean feel to the hot and humid Sochi.
If there is an occasional exception to the rule it is Argentina, the most European of all Latin American nations and one that many Latins see as arrogant.
“We’re Colombian and we want 50 percent Colombia to win, 50 percent Brazil to win,” said Carlos Garizao, who came from Cali with his family to see three Colombian games and Brazil against Costa Rica.
And what about Argentina to win?
“Noooo,” he said with a smile and a typically Latino wag of his finger. “Argentina, never.”
Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Volgograd, editing by Pritha Sarkar