Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughFootball Friends Around the World: Chile - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Football Friends Around the World: Chile - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Football Friends Around the World: Chile

A few months ago 33 men emerged one-by-one from a mine in Chile relatively unscathed, having survived underground for six long and lonely weeks.  As one man escaped, his first thought was to unfurl a banner of his beloved Colo Colo, the top club in Chilean football.  Another miner fetched himself a ball and proceeded to do some keepy-uppies, proving that 40 days in darkness hadn’t dampened his feel for a football. 

Most fans will probably remember the outrageously patriotic Ivan Zamorano and his strike partner Marcelo Salas tearing defences apart at World Cup 98 on their way to a final 16 place before their elimination by Brazil.  Yet a look back at their country’s history shows a number of decent World Cup performances, especially for one with a population about a quarter the size of England’s.  Chile even played in the inaugural World Cup tournament in Uruguay in 1930, and finished third in 1962 when they actually hosted the competition.

Yet after this brief foray into the tournament’s latter stages there seems to have been a decline.  A series of first round exits or failings to qualify were only broken by their good performance in 1998, with this relative success attributed to two outstanding players rather than a massive improvement in their national game.  Cast an eye back to this summer’s World Cup though, where Chile impressed against the likes of Spain and Switzerland before eventually being knocked out by their old nemesis Brazil, and two such outstanding players cannot be found. 

So what was the reason then, for this sudden renaissance on the world scene?  A quick flick back to 2007 goes some way to explaining, with their Under 20’s side gaining a credible third place in the Under 20’s World Cup.  It is no coincidence that the outstanding players from this under 20’s team were also key men for the full national squad this summer, with four players in particular adding to their rapidly growing reputations.

Mauricio Isla is a tenacious little full back currently playing his club football with Udinese in Italy, along with probably the most talented of the current crop Alexis Sanchez, whose explosive pace and willingness to run at defences saw him named as one of the ’50 Most Exciting Teenagers in the World Game’ by magazine ‘World Football’ in 2007.

Also playing in Italy is Carlos Carmona, a powerful midfield player in the mould of Michael Essien in as much as his impressive physical attributes match up to his sound technical proficiency.  The last of the quartet is Carmona’s midfield partner Arturo Vidal, who currently plays for Bayer Leverkusen.  A tough-tackling defensive midfielder who is also comfortable at full back Vidal, along with Carmona, was widely praised for his shackling of Spain’s brilliant midfield duo Xavi and Iniesta during Chile’s 2-1 defeat to the new world champions in the World Cup group stage.

In fact these four contributed in making Chile’s World Cup squad the youngest in the whole competition, surpassing even those whipper-snappers from Germany who humiliated us so convincingly in the round of 16.  And far from the media hatred that welcomed the aging English boys when they returned to the country of their birth, Chile’s leading tabloid led with the headline ‘Thanks for Everything Kids!’ when their team’s jet touched down in Santiago.

These youngsters are integral cogs to a football revolution that is only now churning into noticeable action.  While Chile’s miners may have emerged from their escape tunnel pledging their loyalty to football, five years ago a similar scene would have been unlikely.  Chile just isn’t a footballing nation.  Not even a sporting nation, really.  Of all the nations in South America only Venezuela has less interest in football, with the Venezuelans preferring the diamond pitch of baseball to the rectangle of football. 

Yet in South Africa Chile had a young, charismatic team led by a new generation of potential Chilean superstars.  Gone was the pessimism and uninterested observation of a nation for whom self-pity was commonplace.  No more was Chile a divided strip of South America gazing longingly at Brazil and Argentina.  Here, they had something to be proud of; to excite them, and even unite them as a country.

The successful rescue of the miners alongside a new dynamic generation of footballers may well spark the most important shift in Chilean national consciousness since it gained independence from Spain some 200 years ago.  It’s one thing being an independent country, an entirely different thing feeling like one.  Through football, Chile could just start creeping towards having a bit of national pride.  

Jon Vale

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