Chile’s 2014 World Cup Performances Are Unforgettable
Jorge Sampaoli’s men were not in a place 15 months ago to be the team that ended Spain’s six year dynasty Wednesday. Fresh off their fourth straight loss in CONMEBOL’s difficult qualifying campaign to Peru, questions centered throughout Santiago and the rest of the nation if Sampaoli was feeling the pressure in replacing his mentor Marcelo Bielsa. Nine goals were conceded in those 4 games with two of those home losses coming to Argentina and Colombia, who had surpassed Chile in the South America power pecking order.
Chile required an urgent response. And that response has now carried all the way over to this World Cup.
The response was a frantic style of soccer that Bielsa crafted a cycle ago, but that Sampaoli has now refined and structured with the necessary pragmatism required of an emerging soccer power.
“We’re just a bunch of kids out there who have the will and the fight to try and achieve anything,” said star man Alexis Sanchez. “And a big thanks to everyone who supports us, which is fundamental.”
That fight and desire, buoyed by a mostly Chilean section that made the match almost seem like it were in Santiago instead of the legendary Maracaña, was evidenced throughout their famous 2-0 victory over Spain, but specifically came on the creation of the first goal.
Basel FC footballer Marcelo Diaz will never have the global reputation that Xabi Alonso has garnered, but his pressure on the Real Madrid holding midfield led to the missed pass that fell into the path of Alexis Sanchez and eventually found Eduardo Vargas for the opener. That relentless focus is embedded in the Chilean soccer mentality throughout the squad, a constant full adrenaline rush that will engulf those who aren’t composed as Alonso was.
It was the taste of Spain’s vaunted ball winning characteristics turned back on them once more, and represented how synonymous Chile is now without letting you breathe. The likes of Sanchez, Diaz, Gary Medel, Charles Aranguiz and a few more have to make up for their lack of size and physical build by not just refusing to back down, but to ask if you are ready for them to come out trying to knockout you out. It’s required of a team who, not including its goalkeepers, have only Mauricio Pinilla as its only player over six feet.
The great rise of Sanchez and Arturo Vidal into world class superstars shouldn’t over shadow how their diligence perfectly represents the entire squad. That “do everything it takes to make you feel my presence” perspective this side abides by also lead to a rare defensive day of pure craftsmanship. Their Australia game, with many mistakes from Eugenio Mena and the glaring size advantage most teams will continue to have on the Chileans after Tim Cahill’s staple headed goal gave the Socceroos some belief, kept the questions about their defensive limitations in the forefront for whether they would be able to get revenge on Spain for knocking them out like the Dutch did five days prior.
For once, those questions were answered with an encouraging display, as Sampaoli was able to once again continue the system of no traditional centerhalves in the starting lineup and see that Medal and Jara contained a Diego Costa who may wish now that he stayed true to his Brazilian origin (and viceversa may it be added).
After dealing with Costa, Chile won’t be intimidated by dealing with the host country in the Round of 16, but Sampaoli knows his side want to finish first in Group B to avoid that still arduous prospect. It’s how this group of pitbulls, with Medel long grabbing that moniker for himself, perform against a Dutch team who struggled more against Australia than even they did as the real litmus to whether they could become this year’s Uruguay of 2010 or even better.
That will rest firmly on the shoulders of Sanchez and Vidal, whose fitness looked drastically better from the first game with his knee ailment dissipating. Chile could ill afford to lose those two talisman, but what’s on the back of their minds right now is continuing to try and match their third place result in 1962.
“I am proud to be at the front of this group of players,” Sampaoli said. “This is a victory that I will never forget.”
And with the tenacity that have shown in this era, it could be very well be a tournament for Chile that the rest of the world never forgets.