South American Football Lexicon


A good part of South America is concerned by the first two knockout stages played this Saturday. Brazil-Chile, Colombia-Uruguay, here are pretty posters, rather uncertain: these four nations were particularly brave during the first round, and sometimes brilliant. Argentina will complete the table on Tuesday against Switzerland.

The South American continent has put very pretty words on things in football, and enriches the vocabulary of the environment. Before experiencing an evening punctuated by the “Gooooooooooooooooooooolllllllllllllllllllllllllll» interminable fadas of the waves, a little dive into this lexicon based on Spanish, Portuguese and a little Italian.

barras bravas (las): the gangs of Argentinian hooligans, hardliners. The Chilean ultras also shared their know-how during this World Cup.

Cano (el): the little bridge, often very humiliating. Vikash Dhorasoo says he was kicked out of the France team for many years for having succeeded on Didier Deschamps in training.

chilena (la): the bicycle, dear to Amara Simba.

Double pivots (el): the pair of defensive midfielders. Lucho Gonzalez and Javier Mascherano formed a crowned one at the 2006 World Cup.

Garra Charrua (la): the fighting spirit made in Uruguay, a way of playing that combines rage and virility. Pierino Lattuada, captain of the Girondins de Bordeaux in the 1970s, described it thus:

“The Uruguayan footballer is a rugby player who plays football! We are fighters. We don’t have the technique of a Colombian, an Ecuadorian, or even a Chilean, but it’s always hard to play against us. We must kill ourselves to fight. Ask the Brazilians and Argentines!”

Carlos Curbelo, former Nancy libero born in Uruguay but selected for the France team, once added:

“Our self-esteem is very strong. When you do this for a living and you see your family starving, you want to give it your all, bite into the ball and not into the arm.”

Are we talking to him about Luis Suarez, or not?

Gordito (el): Slightly clumsy player.

Hijo de puta (el): loud cry of the bad loser.

Pedalada (la): the crossing of legs, dear to Doc Gyneco.

Elastico (el): Ronaldinho-style double contact. The flip flap tried by your friend to shine on Sunday morning, but drizzled with Brazilian sauce.

Frango (o): the goalkeeper’s cage. Can be combined with a Higuita (read below).

Gambeta (la): the absolute dribble.

Golazo (el): a superb goal, which triggers hysteria.

grinta (la): synonymous with aggressiveness and often associated with the Argentinian Gabriel Heinze by those who want to show off in South American football. Wrongly: this word is Italian.

Higuita (la): Very special save invented by Colombian goalkeeper René Higuita in 1995, and which he sometimes missed afterwards. Aka the scorpion kick. Higuita joined Rabah Madjer or Antonin Panenka in the pantheon of players who left their name to a technical gesture.

Pelota (la): the ball, pampered for so many years by Diego Maradona.

potrero (el): the vacant lot, or the playground, so much one merges with the other. The base, Lucho Gonzalez reminded us in 2011:

“If we both go to Los Caballitos, the barrio in Buenos Aires where I grew up, I’ll take you to the park by the newsstand. We played there, on the grass, with holes everywhere, trees in the middle… what a park! Already, I didn’t dribble, or very little, so you can imagine today! Then we will go see the people of the barrio, I know them all, they are exceptional. Childhood friends, Walter and Leo, work as sales people, I try to help them.

Pulga (la): the chip, the nickname of Lionel Messi, doped with growth hormones when he was a tiny teenager. To be pronounced with the singing accent of Omar da Fonseca.

Rabona (la): the neckerchief, in cashmere or not.

Cracked (el): a concept, more than a precise strategy. Colombian-inspired, a game all in short passes, slow in the middle of the field, lightning close to the zone of truth (the opposing surface).

Vuelta olímpica (la): the lap of honour.

Zagueiro (o): the central defender. Not to be confused with an Italian rock singer.

Thanks to Stéphane Kohler for his grinta, and much more on the subject to Olivier Guez for his magnificent book, Eloge de l’esquive, which Garrincha fans will finish with tears in their eyes.


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