Posted: Thursday January 11, 2007 2:54PM; Updated: Tuesday January 16, 2007 10:33AM
Though a small sum by U.S. standards, the $1 million deal struck for Boca Juniors' Rodrigo Palacio is a record in Argentina.
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- Even the casual soccer fan in the U.S. knows South America is loco about fútbol. It's one of those facts everyone knows to be true, even if they've never actually seen the proof for themselves. Kind of like how we all know Elizabeth Taylor used to be really, really cute. But unless we've actually gone out of our way to rent Cleopatra or Giant, we just accept it.
To truly understand how engrained soccer is in South American culture, you have to see it for yourself. Kids everywhere play pickup games here, at all hours. You can't walk a block in a city down here without passing someone in a club jersey. Sporting-goods stores compete for your local allegiances, with T-shirts, jerseys and other paraphernalia in the display window (Flamengo or Fluminense? Boca or River? Nacional or Peñarol?).
For an American to truly understand the South American national pastime, take the passion of the NFL and college football and merge them into one. Now pretend basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis and everything else barely exist.
Adjust to the fact that soccer games are only once a week, twice at best. And understand that when a country's national team takes the pitch, most people play hooky from work.
Even that doesn't do it justice. You have to experience how soccer is the living, breathing cultural pulse of South America. These people buy their children their first soccer ball while they're still in their cribs. They dress their toddlers in tiny jerseys of their favorite players. At the other end of the life cycle, some are even buried in coffins and cemeteries bearing their clubs' colors and logos. Spooky, right?
For a changeup this week, we're taking advantage of the break in the European calendar for a special edition of the Rankings: all-South American.
The results are a pretty good representation of where the power lies. Brazil and Argentina are represented by four clubs apiece; up-and-coming Paraguay adds a representative, as does underrated Chile; but former superpower Uruguay is just short.
We'll be back in a couple weeks with our regularly scheduled programming.