June 30, 2010
Sometimes television cameras at sporting events turn their powerful focus from the field of play to the giddy and/or inconsolable masses in the stands. And sometimes that focus sticks for more than just the few seconds until a beer ad can be readied or the athlete with a torn meniscus can be dragged off. In the case of Larissa Riquelme, that focus is sticking and has quickly heaved her to international popularity with at least half the population that has seen her.
Described as Paraguay's No. 1 fan, Riquelme is a model like so many others you've never ever heard of but seen pictured in popular alleys of the Internet. Yet because of her emphatic support of her national team and the hypnosis she holds over cameras far and wide, she now overflows from the pages of leading sports sites like Spain's AS.com, Italy's Corriere dello Sport and Brazil's Globo, and has become one of the most popular names in search engines and on Twitter. On Tuesday, Larissa Riquelme searches on Yahoo rocketed 241 percent.
First rising to global popularity as she cheered on Paraguay in the opening-match draw that shocked their Italian opponents, Riquelme intrigued viewers with the curious yet prominent way she carries her mobile phone. As Paraguay continued their improbable run, finishing atop their group and advancing to the knockout stage, the cameras continued to seek her out, even as she watched a continent away, back home in Asuncion.
Sitting front and center (even if she really wasn't) at a public viewing party for Paraguay's round of 16 match against Japan on Tuesday, the cameras just kept snapping as she urged her team to victory. Paraguay won on penalties, putting them in the quarterfinals for the first time ever, yet it was Larissa Riquelme's name near the top of Twitter's worldwide trending topics list and surging up as one of the top 2,000 Yahoo search terms.
Of course, her assertion that she will run through the streets in nothing but red and blue bodypaint should Paraguay somehow win the World Cup isn't hurting her quicksilver rise, which will probably outlast many people's memories of Paraguay's impressive run. But that's how these things go.
UPDATE: According to a new story from Globo (which accuses Larissa of overshadowing Paraguay's performance), her strategic mobile phone placement is just that. She was hired to publicly cheer Paraguay with the phone held firmly on display within her tank top. I don't think her new fans will feel at all betrayed by this sly marketing ploy.
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