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Nuestra fiebre: Fútbol frenzy in Latin America

November 2022

Illustration: Sol Undurraga

If you were to explain soccer to a Martian, you might say it's a game where two teams try to kick a shared ball into the other team's net. You could get into the gameplay: dribbles, passes, penalties, etc. But that doesn't capture what soccer means.

What about the feelings that the game inspires? The experience of being fused into a roaring crowd, no longer an individual? The fleeting ecstasy when a goal is scored? The joy and despair sparked when the referee blows the full-time whistle?

And that’s just for local teams (equipos). When it comes to competition between national teams (selecciones) — especially in a region where fútbol is tantamount to a religion — it becomes seismic: the fanaticism, the celebrity, the politics, and the corruption. With the World Cup around the corner, it's time to take a look at "the beautiful game" with four stories of soccer in Latin America.

In La caída de River, passion overcomes Atilio Costa Febre as River Plate — one of the most important soccer teams in Argentina — risks relegation from the first division. Atilio has been following River for 21 years, and he's even made a career out of his fervor. He became a sports commentator para contar campeonatos, para calentarse con malos momentos, but he never imagined he'd have to narrate his team's possible downfall. At this pivotal match, he faces a dilemma between remaining professional or being the voice of fans who, like him, are confronting the end of their world.

If you're a soccer fan, you might get what Atilio went through. But if you're thinking that was a touch dramatic, just wait until you listen to La llamada del 10, where soccer fever is dialed up to eleven. Here, we meet Mariano Sinito, a 10-year-old from Rosario, Argentina who's part of the Maradonian Church, the cult of soccer legend Diego Maradona. Mariano is explaining his unusual creed on a kids talk show when he suddenly receives a phone call from his idol. ¡Fah! he exclaims. Siento que estoy tocando el cielo. Estoy conociendo a Dios. But what follows this exciting moment, Mariano will much later recall as un pequeño infierno.

A bigger hell awaits Colombian physical therapist Carolina Rozo in Fuera de lugar, where she falls in, then out of love with the sport. Facing a practicum with a soccer team during her third year at university, all she can think is no, fútbol no, fútbol no, fútbol no, but when she studies the intricacies of the game, she begins to see it in a new light. A month after her graduation, she's overjoyed to accept an unpaid position on the women's national under-17 team. But the coach's unwanted advances quickly turn her excitement into fear. What's worse, she's not his only victim. This story portrays the silences, imbalances of power, bureaucracies, and straight-out dangers of the soccer world.

And while some risk everything for fútbol, Creando un monstruo is about those who wish they could be more into it. That's the case of Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo, a father who's worried about his young son playing with girls and dolls. Santiago understands the implications of being the weird kid — he was the same way when he was younger — so he tries to induce a love of soccer in his son: Lo llevo a plazas donde "casualmente" juegan otros niños. Concentro mi vida social en amigos con hijos futboleros. The outcome of his plan, foreshadowed in the title, is unexpected for Santiago.

Now's the perfect time to learn a bit more about soccer culture in the most soccer-loving region in the world, all while taking your Spanish to the next level.

  1. La caída de River

    11 mins, Argentina

    The sports story of a fall from grace.

  2. Fuera de lugar

    19 mins, Colombia

    Carolina had never liked soccer.

  3. Creando un monstruo

    24 mins, Peru, Spain

    No one said fatherhood would be easy.

  4. La llamada del 10

    24 mins, Argentina

    Meeting your idol can change your life, but it might not be for the better.

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Based on his own experiences, Santiago — narrator of Creando un monstruo — worries that his son will be bullied for being different. He tries to get his son to play soccer to fit in, but things don't turn out as planned. By observing his son's development, his unique perspective, and how he challenges expectations, Santiago gains insights into his own fears. The activity guide we developed for this episode will help your class explore how sharing perspectives increases our understanding of ourselves and others while learning key language components.

Javier Gastón-Greenberg

Javier Gastón-Greenberg

Curriculum Developer, Spanish Enrichment Program, KIPP AMP, New York

Javier is a professor of Hispanic Languages and Literature. He is one of the co-creators of Hero Genesis, a curriculum development program that uses the secret language of comics to empower storytelling.

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