How Far Can Chile's Golden Generation Take Them?
History and Background
Chile started playing football very early, with their football federation founded all the way back in 1885 — the second oldest in South America. However, they struggled to produce to a dangerous side for a long time. La Roja participated in the first World Cup held in 1930, but failed to advance past the group stage. Their best ever record in the tournament came in 1962 when they hosted it, coming in third.
That would remain as the only time Chile has made it past the round of 16 in the World Cup though, as they continue to struggle in the knock-out stage of the competition. It is not only the performance that has been holding the Chilean team back, but their terrible luck plays a part as well. The last three times they made it to the round of 16 (in 1990, 2010, and 2014), they ran into Brazil. They were comfortably beaten by the regional rivals in the first two times, while their meeting three years ago came down to penalties and the hosts run out as winners.
Besides not having much success in World Cups, the team constantly struggled in Copa America as well. Chile failed to win the tournament for 99 years since it debuted back in 1916. However, when they hosted it two summers ago, they finally had the taste of silverware beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the penalty shoot-out.
It looks as though their 2015 victory has shown them the formula for success, as they managed to win the tournament again last year. In the special edition of Copa America, which was held to celebrate its 100th year anniversary, the Chileans beat Argentina in a similar fashion in the final.
With the last two summers surrounded by all smiles and glory, Chile comes to Russia fully confident that they can bring home another silverware.
Jorge Sampaoli became the national hero after winning the country their first ever international trophy in football in 2015. There was already a lot of hype surrounding his appointment back in December of 2012, after the Argentine led his club side Universidad de Chile to three league titles and a Copa Sudamericana trophy.
Sampaoli lived up to his hype, delivering a turnaround in results and performances for the national team. His new look Chile side, which went back to Marcelo Balsa’s days of high press and energetic style, won their first four World Cup qualifiers under him to secure the trip to Brazil.
Chile made a huge impact in the World Cup, knocking out the defending champions Spain while putting on an impressive performance. In the round of 16 match-up against Brazil, they competed well with the hosts. However, their bad luck in the tournament came back to haunt them as they were eliminated in the penalty shoot-out.
The relationship between the federation and Sampaoli, though, ended in bad terms in the beginning of 2016. Although everything seemed to be going well after the 57-year-old won Chile a Copa America, constant tension between him and the president of the federation made the manager terminate his contract.
Their current coach Juan Antonio Pizzi was immediately brought in to help steer the ship. Pizzi, as brilliant as the player, was not doing so well in his managerial career — especially for his last two clubs Valencia and Club Leon. His initial results as the Chile coach were far from impressive as well, losing Argentina at home in the first game before losing friendlies to Mexico and Jamaica. After suffering a defeat in their opening game against Argentina in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, which was a fourth defeat in the first five games under the Spaniard, Chilean fans were outraged with the way their team has been performing.
Things quickly turned around in a few weeks time for the South American nation though, as they ran rampant over Mexico in the quarter final — beating El Tri by a record scoreline of 7-0. They continued to comfortably beat Colombia in the semi final and brought home another title again after beating Argentina in a similar fashion to 2015.
Despite winning the tournament, Pizzi’s Chile still looks far from intimidating in the qualifiers as they have only won once in five away games under the 49-year-old. They currently sit fourth in the standings, with just one point above the fifth-place Argentina and three above the sixth-place Ecuador. Their performance in the upcoming Confederations Cup will give a general idea about what can be expected from La Roja for next summer, if they do manage to qualify.
It is impossible to talk about Chile without their three big players — Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, and Claudio Bravo. All three of them have plied their trade in Chile’s biggest club Colo Colo and have been playing together in La Roja senior squad for 10 years. They know each other very well and have contributed a lot to the team’s recent success.
Although they have huge influence on and off the pitch, Chile is not only about those three. Inter Milan’s Gary Medel, Tigres’ Eduardo Vargas, Bayer Leverkusen’s Charles Aranguiz, Cagliari’s Mauricio Isla, and veteran Jean Beausejour are also the key players for the current side.
Pizzi’s style differs to that of Sampaoli’s, which means some key players during the Argentine’s reign have been omitted by the Spaniard. Jorge Valdivia, the highly rated and experienced playmaker, is among them along with Carlos Carmona, AC Milan’s Matias Fernandez, and Valencia’s Fabian Orellana. The team’s veteran forward Mauricio Pinilla is ruled out with an injury, while the former Liverpool man Mark Gonzalez has been out of the picture since last summer.
Based on the current players and recent record, Chile is among the favorites to win this tournament. Although their performances in the World Cup qualifiers have been questionable, especially away from home, and their friendly results this month haven’t been the best, La Roja can never be underestimated.
If Pizzi can get this team together, just like last summer in the United States, there is no reason they can’t return home with another silverware. They should at least get to the final, where they will likely meet Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Anything can happen from there but they may lack enough firepower to beat the strong Portuguese backline though. Second place should be the most realistic target for the back-to-back South American champions.
6/18 — Chile vs Cameroon
6/22 — Chile vs Germany
6/25 — Chile vs Australia