Chile may be out of this World Cup but their players return to Santiago with reputations enhanced and heads held high. It was not the fact that they made the last 16 that was impressive it was the way in which they did it.
Johann Cruyff knows a thing or two about entertaining football and used his regular column in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf to endorse Marcelo Bielsa’s side:
“The best team I’ve seen so far is Chile.” He said on Monday.
“Chile has, on its own, created more chances than just about all the other teams combined.”
Bielsa remained true to his attacking instincts throughout and banished the demons of his failed campaign with Argentina in 2002. In addition, the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Jean Beausejour did enough to interest the scouts of some of Europe’s bigger clubs. If Udinese can hold onto the quick and skillful Sanchez in the long term it will be a real surprise.
Few games in World Cup history have produced the territorial dominance Chile built in their opening games against Honduras and Switzerland. That they could only win those games 1-0 is still unfathomable. The match with Switzerland in particular resembled a training session in which attack takes on defense.
In the end Chile will come to rue the lack of goals they scored in the group stage. Had they taken more of their chances and not finished second on goal difference they would have dodged a knockout tie with Brazil and may still be in the tournament. Had Humberto Suazo not torn his hamstring against New Zealand just before the competition things may have been different.
In the end they could not quite compensate for a lack of height in defense and a vulnerability to the counter attack. Chile went out as many had predicted, beaten by a stronger, more tournament savvy Brazil who ruthlessly exposed these flaws.
While they were never destined to win the tournament Chile entertained the fans at home, many still recovering from the devastating earthquake that rocked much of the country earlier this year. They also enthralled football purists around the globe in a tournament blighted by too much dour, defensive football.
Cruyff summed up the value of the Chilean philosophy perfectly:
“While the chances of winning the title are limited, the opportunity of pleasing the fans watching you is in your hands. Luckily, Chile has grasped that”.
The team, the coaches and the 17 million Chileans can be proud to have produced such a side.