JOHANNESBURG — — There are five of them in all, five coaches from South America who have been at the World Cup for two weeks now and have yet to taste defeat.
Nine games and no losses suggests that this might be the continent's turn to take home the trophy. But which coach will be carrying it?
There is Diego Maradona, who, with his shiny gray suit, silver tie, diamond-stud earrings and pinky ring, not to mention his black beard with the white frosting, looks less like a former great athlete than like a used-car salesman from Buenos Aires.
Danny DeVito, in a curly black wig, would play him in the movie.
But Maradona is smiling, and with good reason. His Argentina is playing the best soccer seen so far at South Africa 2010. The goals are flowing freely and the fans are in good voice. Diego is in his element; the world is once again his stage and he is taking full advantage.
Then there is Dunga, an altogether more somber kind of character, even though he, like Maradona, already has won a World Cup as a player and should be relaxed in his pursuit of a second as a coach. Dour is the word that comes to mind.
On Sunday night, at Soccer City in Johannesburg, Dunga actually managed a grin, but that was only after Brazil had overcome the Ivory Coast, 3-1, in a bruising, foul-ridden encounter when he spotted his old Selecao sidekick Cafu in the postgame interview room.
Third in line is Oscar Tabarez, the former schoolteacher from Montevideo who, in only two games at this tournament, already has made a little Uruguayan soccer history.
When Uruguay shut out host South Africa in Pretoria on Wednesday night after earlier tying France, it was the country's first World Cup victory in 20 years. The man who led them to the previous one, over South Korea at Italia '90? Tabarez.
Then there is Gerardo Martino, the happiest man in Bloemfontein on Sunday when he guided Paraguay to a 2-0 victory over Slovakia after earlier having tied world champion Italy.
Paraguay, like Argentina, employs three forwards, and the tactic is paying off. All it needs now to reach the last 16 is a tie against New Zealand in Polokwane on Thursday. Not that the Kiwis will be a pushover. They surprised Italy on Sunday and earned a 1-1 tie at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
Finally, there is Marcelo Bielsa, who led Chile to an opening-game victory over Honduras and who will try to get a second win on Monday when Chile plays Switzerland in Port Elizabeth.
So there they are, the five South Americans with a remarkable combined record of 7-0-2 through Sunday and a goal difference of 17-4 at World Cup 2010. Each of their teams is poised to advance to the knockout phase.
It is worth mentioning at this point that the World Cup has been won by a South American nation every other tournament since 1962. So put Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay into a hat and pick your winner.
It is also worth pointing out that three of the five coaches are Argentine: Maradona, Martino and Bielsa.
The five have something else in common: a go-to goal-scorer or goal-creator who can single-handedly make a difference in a game. At the World Cup level, that isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.
Maradona has Lionel Messi, who set up all four goals in Argentina's 4-1 romp past South Korea on Thursday and who modestly said afterward that he did not mind missing out on the goal-scoring glory.
"It doesn't matter, the goals are coming, the team is winning," the reigning FIFA world player of the year said.
Dunga has Luis Fabiano, who scored twice on Sunday night and afterward laughingly brushed off the fact that he used his hand and arm on the better of the two goals. "It was a magnificent goal," he insisted.
Maradona, had he heard that, would have been proud.
Tabarez has Diego Forlan, whose two goals against South Africa made him the first Uruguayan player in 56 years to score more than one goal in a World Cup match.
Martino has Roque Santa Cruz, who, even though he has not scored yet, has provided enough of a distraction to allow his teammates to bag three vital goals.
Bielsa has Humberto Suazo, the top scorer during South American qualifying with 10 goals. Suazo has been injured but could return to play against Switzerland on Monday.
The formula is simple: coach plus star plus luck.
It does not necessarily guarantee a title, but if this tournament comes down to Argentina playing Brazil in the July 11 final, it could conclude in spectacular fashion.