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South America has an infatuation with football so deep and passionate that it makes our Kiwi love for rugby look like little more than passing interest.
Football - or soccer, for the uninitiated - is played by about 265 million people all over the world, according to FIFA, making it easily the most popular sport on the planet. Many of the football elite - Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo, Messi... the list goes on - come from South America, where they're revered as demigods among the general populace.
Throughout the continent, people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds are downright fanatical about the sport. In the schools, parks and beaches of every South American country, you'll find crowds of people coming together to show off their fancy footwork in friendly competition.
In the "favelas" (slums) of Rio de Janeiro, kids can be seen kicking raggedy old balls around from sunset to sundown, undeterred by the dusty pitches, absence of goal structures and frequent lack of shoes. Practising day in and day out, many of these kids will be recognised by talent scouts and go on to become some of the most famous footballers on the planet.
It's this love for the game, even among the world's poorest, that makes South America the king of football.
Become a part of the madness on your next South American adventure by attending a football match. These are our four favourite football stadiums in South America.
Let's be honest - most travellers are going to Peru to visit Machu Picchu. While these beautiful ruins are certainly worthy of your attention, take some time out to also experience the country's rich football culture. On the eastern outskirts of Lima, Peru's capital, you'll find Estadio Monumental "U", the largest stadium in all of South America. The stadium, designed by Uruguayan architect Walter Lavalleja Sarriés, was opened in 2000 and is home to one of Peru's best national club teams, Universitario de Deportes.
Dive headfirst into Argentina's football action with a visit to Antonio Vespucio Liberti stadium, better known as The Monumental. This glorious stadium is situated in the colourful city of Buenos Aires, and is the largest in the country. The Monumental is not only impressive for its size, but also for its history. Constructed in 1938, the stadium has played host to a number of extraordinary football matches, with the ultimate highlight undoubtedly being the 1978 World Cup Final, in which Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1.
Located in the deep south of Paraguay in the city of Montevideo lies another important bastion of football culture - Estadio Centenario. The stadium dates way back to 1930, when it was used for the opening match of the World Cup. At this time, it had a incredible spectator capacity of around 100,000, which was later reduced when the standing areas were converted to seated sections. Today, it is the home of the Uruguayan national team, and is a point of pride for the people of the country.
As five-time World Cup winners and recent hosts of the 2014 World Cup, there's no denying that Brazil is the best place in the world to get a real taste of football. There are many stadiums to be found throughout the country, but our pick of the bunch has to be Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho, more commonly known as Maracanã.
Located in thriving Rio, this stadium is the crowning glory of football, a temple to which thousands of people flock to pay their respects to the gods of the game. Maracanã was originally built for the 1950 World Cup, and over the course of its use has been the backdrop to countless unforgettable moments in football history.
Make a game plan for your next South American holiday.
Read more about South America.
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