Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From Champs to Chumps: Spain Ousted from World Cup by Chile

In 1989, Brazil’s Maracaná Stadium was the setting for one of the lowest moments in Chilean soccer history when goalkeeper Roberto Rojas faked an injury during a World Cup qualifier against by cutting himself with a razor and smearing ketchup on him.  (Rojas was subsequently banned for life and Chile was barred from the 1990 and 1994 World Cups). Twenty-five years later, the Maracaná played host to the Chilean team’s greatest World Cup performance.

On Wednesday La Roja beat defending World Cup champions Spain by a 2-0 score in their Group B match and, hence, eliminated Spain from progressing through to the second round. The result also assured that Chile would emerge past the group stage.

Chile had never their Iberian counterparts in international play though they came close at the World Cup four years ago.  That changed in Rio starting with the opening whistle as Chile applied constant pressure against a side that were embarrassed days ago by the Netherlands.

Eduardo Vargas nearly scored in the second minute when his shot was narrowly deflected wide by a defender.  Still, Chile did not let up and their persistence paid off in the twentieth minute when Charles Aranguiz picked up a Spanish turnover and fed it to Vargas who patiently slotted home the opening goal. That lead doubled just before halftime when Aranguiz took advantage of a goalkeeping error by the usually solid Iker Casillas and blasted the ball past the Spanish captain.

Spain showed some signs of life early in the second half as Sergio Busquets and pantomime villain Diego Costa didn’t convert on easy chances.  From then on it was Chile that controlled the match as their midfield and defense stifled La Furia Roja while goalkeeper Claudio Bravo made a sprawling save in the 84th minute.  Despite the inexplicable addition of six minutes of injury time, Chile never wavered and assured held on for the victory.

This is historic for us and the entire country”, observed Bravo after the final whistle while forward Alexis Sanchez emphasized that the team has “plenty of guts and the desire to achieve greatness (at this World Cup).”

“We’re very happy to have played against Spain the way we have done. We played at a very intense pace, with courage and that is the reason we won,” said Chilean coach Jorge Sampaoli at the post-match press conference. 

Both Chile and the Netherlands have six points and have qualified passed the group stage.  They play each other in the final group match with the winner likely avoiding host country Brazil in a second round duel.

“We cannot make any mistakes and I hope we can play with the same dedication as we did today,” noted Chile’s 54-year-old Argentine-born coach regarding next Monday match against the Oranje.

Prior to the match, some 100 Chilean fans angry over not having tickets overran a woefully undermanned security checkpoint at the Maracaná and caused damage to the venue’s media room. Most of them were eventually detained by police and are expected to be deported within the next seventy-two hours.  Nevertheless, the incident has highlighted security vulnerabilities at the Maracaná and occurred days after disturbances during Argentina’s 2-1 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of jubilant La Roja fans celebrated on Wednesday evening by flooding the streets nationwide and main squares of Chilean cities like Santiago, Valparaiso and Iquique. The joy was not lost on El Condor Rojas who probably hopes that when Chileans think of the Maracaná they remember Wednesday’s World Cup win and not his actions from a quarter-century ago:

Video Source – YouTube user DK World Sports (Chilean ad exhorting fans to reclaim the Roja moniker away from a Spanish side “absent of any identity of their own.”)

Online Sources – Twitter; La Tercera;; ABC News; Bloomberg; CNN; The Telegraph; Radio Bio-Bio

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