SAO PAULO - A group
of French-speaking fans were looking for a cab to go to Belgium's
World Cup game. Coming from the other direction on the famed
Avenida Paulista, Flemish-speaking fans were loudly looking for
lunch. They crossed each other, listened - looked at one
another's Belgian red shirts, and suddenly it was high fives and
Neymar fights for the ball with Chile's Francisco Silva
during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Brazil
and Chile at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil
It was the
sporting spirit of Sao Paulo, which is all too rarely the
political spirit of the Belgian capital Brussels.
For a country in
the political throes of separatism, the World Cup is providing
almost a surreal glue of unity. When Belgium's motto "L'Union
fait la force — union makes strength," is increasingly
turned into "L'Union fait la farce — Unity is the
joke," the performance of the national team is lost on no one
— in Brazil or at home.
And it should not
be lost on the United States too, the next opponent in an
increasingly successful World Cup campaign.
will give everything for Belgium," said coach Marc Wilmots, a
former senator who has defended the concept of a united nation.
Elio Di Rupo, a staunch Francophone defender of Belgium in the
face of the rising Flemish nationalist N-VA party, is loving every
minute of the rise of the Red Devils, especially Tuesday's match
against the United States.
I am betting some great Belgian beers that our @BelRedDevils will
make it to the quarter final! :-)," he Tweeted after
Thursday's 1-0 victory over South Korea.
divisions back home make the U.S. motto at the tournament
"One Nation. One Team." almost a taunt to Belgians.
While the Belgian
political arena is carefully divided down to the last
parliamentary seat among the 6.5 million Dutch-speakers from
northern Flanders and 4.5 million Francophones from the south, the
national team is a mix of languages where a tally of how many
Flemings and Francophones has become a thing of the past.
represents that unity because he is a Francophone married to a
between sports and politics could not be starker these days. While
the national team keeps winning and the black-yellow-red flags are
waved in unison, Belgian politics has again stumbled into crisis.
month made the regionalist N-VA party even bigger in Flanders and
predictably, government negotiations are bogged down in
fundamental contradictions between north and south. Four years
ago, elections spawned a record 541 days — yes, 1 ½ years —
of negotiations before Di Rupo came became premier.
Di Rupo is from
poorer Wallonia, which traditionally leans in favor of national
unity because the region would likely find it difficult to survive
on its own economically. The N-VA has traditionally campaigned on
a platform that Wallonia is a burden to Flanders, preventing it
realizing its economic potential.
At the World Cup,
such things are scoffed upon.
don't have a government yet. We don't care. We will keep the
country united," said Nicolas Lombaerts, the central defender
during the victory over South Korea. And the fans think exactly
only one Belgium, with Flemings and Francophones united,"
said Yves Hauglustaine, a Francophone entering retirement after a
life of work for the national railroad company that shuttles
masses across the linguistic border on a daily basis.
And it is this
contradiction between the way people vote and the way they feel in
a country that cherishes surrealism as a national treasure.
Brazil (AP) — Tight and tense as it was, it was enough to keep
Brazil's national obsession of winning the World Cup on home soil
from taking a desperately disappointing turn.
And it wasn't
Neymar, the country's poster boy for this year's World Cup, that
played the key role this time. It was goalkeeper Julio Cesar, the
country's scapegoat from the last World Cup, who made several
crucial saves and even got some help from the woodwork in a 3-2
penalty shootout win over Chile.
With the score
level at 1-1 on Saturday, Brazil was inches away from an early
exit when Chile forward Mauricio Pinilla hit the crossbar in the
final moments of extra time.
Then, on the
final kick of the match and after a pair of saves from Cesar in
the shootout, Gonzalo Jara hit the post.
the Brazilian people just needed this," said Cesar, who made
a mistake four years ago in South Africa that led to a
quarterfinal loss. "The players, everybody else, we needed
The fans still
have to wait to celebrate the title, however. There are three more
matches to win before the home team can lay claim to a sixth World
if we can make fewer mistakes in the next matches," Brazil
coach Felipe Scolari said. "Perhaps next time we won't be as
To be fair, it
wasn't just luck that saw Brazil through to the quarterfinals at
Mineirao Stadium, which was a sea of Brazilian yellow with islands
of Chilean red.
Luiz and Marcelo scored in the shootout, and Cesar saved penalties
from Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez before watching Jara's final
attempt hit the post.
The game over,
some Brazilian players fell to the ground, exhausted and
emotionally drained. Willian, who missed a penalty for Brazil,
sobbed uncontrollably, as Fred helped him to his feet.
stood still, staring into the ground, wiping the sweat off their
think I can be satisfied with the result?" Chile coach Jorge
Sampaoli said. "We've played a hard 120 minutes even if
everybody was against us in the stadium."
extended its 39-year unbeaten streak in home competitive matches
to 61, will next face either Colombia or Uruguay in the
the first half against Chile and took the lead when Luiz scored
following a corner kick. After Sanchez equalized for Chile, Brazil
had several chances to regain the lead.
deflected wide, Fred lifted the ball over the bar from close range
and Dani Alves forced a backpedaling Claudio Bravo to make a
But after referee
Howard Webb disallowed Hulk's second-half goal, ruling he had used
his arm to control a long pass, Brazil lost the initiative to a
Chile team that can leave the World Cup with pride after
eliminating defending champion Spain in the group stage.
inside Brazil's half, Chile pressured the home side into making
mistakes or resorting to long passes to Hulk and Neymar.
And, again, it
was Cesar that often came up big, making a spectacular save on
Charles Aranguiz's shot to keep Chile from taking the lead in the
"We tried to
give everything, we tried to fight for a dream, and we didn't
achieve it," Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal said. "But we
gave all our effort on the pitch."
Chile has never
defeated Brazil in Brazil and hasn't reached the World Cup
quarterfinals since 1962, when it hosted the tournament.
meanwhile, has reached the quarterfinals of each World Cup since
Argentina eliminated it in the second round in 1990.
Brazil went ahead
in the 18th minute after Thiago Silva deflected Neymar's corner
kick toward the far post. Luiz was given the goal but replays
showed Jara may have touched the ball before it went in.
Brazil lost the
lead when it failed to cope with Chile's aggressive pressure in a
throw-in situation deep inside its half of the field. Eduardo
Vargas intercepted Hulk's pass and found Sanchez on the right side
of the area. The Barcelona striker scored easily with a shot
toward the far post.
In the end,
however, it was Brazil moving on to the quarterfinals, with the
hopes of a nation planted on the backs of every player.
these are lessons being given to the whole population,"
Scolari said. "If you make a promise, you must deliver. This
is what the players are doing."