The Chilean National Team Transforms Average Joes Into World-Beaters

If you have only seen Eduardo Vargas play club football, well, I feel sorry for you. Vargas is a forward for TSG Hoffenheim, and a thoroughly below average one at that. He scored 2 goals in 25 appearances in the Bundesliga last year, and that wasn’t exactly an exceptionally bad haul for him.

The year before, playing for QPR in the Premier League, he managed 3 goals in 22 appearances. And the year before that he managed 5 goals in 25 appearances for Valencia in La Liga. So you might belive that Vargas is nothing more than a below average player, but that simply isn't the case.


Vargas, as you will soon find out, is an extreme example of a transformation members of the reigning Copa America champion Chilean national team seem to go through when they put on their nation's colors. Vargas isn't just better when he plays for Chile than he plays for Hoffenheim, he is world-class. 

Eduardo Vargas Chile Copa America

Vargas, probably not impressing for a club side. Photo: @refugioazul | Twitter

Last summer, during Chile's conquest of the 2015 Copa America, Vargas had 4 goals and an assist in 6 matches. His goals ran the spectrum from clinical headers to thunderstrikes, the latter of which Vargas won a semifinal with.

It was the 63rd minute and the match was knotted Chile 1 Peru 1. Chile harrassed Peru into giving the ball away with a swarming press, Vargas was given the ball as soon as Chile won it back, and he unleashed a strike that deserves to win any game.

Overall, Vargas has scored 27 goals in 52 matches for Chile, at a rate of a goal every 130 minutes. That scoring rate is over three times greater than his scoring rate in European top flight soccer, which sits at a goal every 424 minutes.

Vargas is not the only Chilean playing in Europe who plays better when he dons Chile's colors. 8 of the players selected by Chile to go to the 2016 Copa America play in a major European first division (Spain, Italy, France, Germany) and were also selected to the 2015 tournament. According to WhoScored, out of those 8 players, 7 received a higher average match rating during the 2015 Copa America than they had throughout the two club seasons before and after the tournament. 

The 7 players who performed better for Chile than for their club team are the aforementioned Eduardo Vargas, Celta de Vigo midfielder Marcelo Diaz, Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Charles Aranguiz, Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal, Inter Milan defender Gary Medel, Marseille defender Mauricio Isla, and FC Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. The player who did not is Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez.

But Alexis Sanchez had his own case of out performing expectations at the 2015 Copa America. His club team, Arsenal, has a reputation for crumbling under pressure, and almost every player that passes through the club is tarnished by this reputation to some extent (after Arsenal's title challenge collapse this past year, Sanchez is no exception). Yet when it came time to take the penalty kick that could win Chile the 2015 Copa America, it was Sanchez who stepped up and took it in the most confident way possible, with a chip. 

A slightly mis-hit chip maybe, but a chip none the less. It was as if he had no fear of failure, no ghosts from Arsenal's title collapse.

At this summer's Copa America, it will be interesting to see how much these transformations were due to the players themselves or former coach Jorge Sampaoli. Sampaoli established himself as one of the best coaches in the world at Chile, and was named as a finalist for FIFA Coach of the Year as a result. He is gone now, and it will be up to Juan Antonio Pizzi to recreate Sampaoli's magic. 

As the 5th ranked nation in the world, Chile is a legitimate candidate to win the 2016 Copa America. They will not have the advantage of being the hosts of the tournament they had in 2015, but they will have the advantage of returning 14 of the 23 players that won that competition. We will have to wait and see what the tournament has in store, but I know what team I will be rooting for once the United States gets knocked out.

Follow me on Twitter: @yetly

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