The president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, says that he expects the four Mercosur countries Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay to meet in the semi-finals of the World Cup in South Africa.
During a meeting with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in São Paulo, Lula made the statement after learning about Paraguay’s victory over Japan for a slot in the quarterfinals.
“It means that we run the good risk of having the four Mercosur countries contesting the semi-finals very soon,” anticipated the Brazilian president.
In order to materialize such a forecast, Mercosur members must overcome tough opponents in the quarterfinals: Uruguay face Ghana; Paraguay play Spain; Brazil, the Netherlands and Argentina take on Germany.
Lula regretted Italy’s early departure from South Africa. “We will not have the Brazil-Italy final,” said Lula da Silva, but insisted with Mercosur, “we have the four members in the quarterfinals of the Cup”.
Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are past world champions.
PM Berlusconi, who is also a soccer fan and president of the powerful AC Milan, said Italians were doing soul-searching after their beloved ‘Azzuri’ were bumped out of the World Cup in the group stage.
The two leaders held a private meeting in São Paulo trying to minimize diplomatic tensions that soared in the past year over an Italian ex-leftist militant held in Brazil whose extradition is sought by Rome.
Berlusconi’s visit, twice postponed, comes at a delicate time between the two countries, with Lula yet to rule on the extradition of Cesare Battisti.
Found guilty in absentia for murders dating from the 1970s, Battisti was granted refugee status by Lula’s government last year, but the Supreme Court then ruled his status unconstitutional and granted Italy’s extradition request.
However, the court ruling also gives President Lula the last word on the case and all indications are that the Brazilian leader is inclined to veto the extradition.
“The relationship between Brazil and Italy is so strong that whatever the decision, our ties will not suffer any scratches,” Lula said during the press conference in São Paulo alongside Berlusconi.