Goodbye Argentina, move over Brazil, football in Latin America has a new king on the throne. Chile’s national team is CONMEBOL’s new star. With forward Marcelo Salas and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo as the cornerstones, Chile’s Football Federation underwent a rebuild that has paid off. “La Roja” has continuously improved and climbed the ranks on the international stage over the past decade. Chile has finally earned the respect of their worldwide peers.
How It All Began
Looking back, the 2007 Copa America has to be considered the starting point. That year Chile made it to the quarterfinals before mighty Brazil (who went on to win that year’s Copa) sent them home. It was Chile’s best finish since winning the bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia.
From that 2007 Copa the team got progressively better with every international competition taking quite a few teams by surprise in the process. At the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Chile shocked the world by advancing to the Round of 16 with a second place finish in Group H. They did so by defeating the likes of Honduras and Switzerland, and holding their own in a 2-1 loss to Spain (who won the cup that year). Yet, for every step forward their was a step back as they once again tasted defeat by the hands of Brazil in the knockout round. But in the process they proved to the world they were the real deal and did it on football’s biggest stage. Little did we know at that time that “La Roja” was starting to show what they were made of. When they returned to Copa America in 2011, they saw another quarterfinals, but lost a much closer game to Venezuela. However, once more there was victory in defeat, the loss was an improvement, as it resulted in a fifth place finish compared to their eighth place finish in 2007.
The upward trajectory would continue. First came the 2014 World Cup in enemy territory. They dethroned reigning champion Spain and surprised Australia in group play. While they were eliminated again by home team Brazil in the Round of 16, it took penalty kicks to settle that contest. Chile pushed Brazil to the brink and the “Canarinho’s” haven’t been the same since.
Then, in last year’s Copa America on their home soil, Chile finally arrived. They swept through Group A by taking down Ecuador, playing Latin American powerhouse Mexico to a draw, and easily dispatching Bolivia. In the knockout stages they scored one goal victories over Uruguay and Peru to advance to the Championship. In the finals, Chile took on a star studded Argentina squad. 90 minutes wasn’t enough to decide this match, neither was extra time. It took penalty kicks to ultimately settle this contest and Chile won that battle 4-1 to qualify for their first Confederations Cup tournament (to be played in 2017).
Yet, the pinnacle had to be this year’s Copa America Centenario. Chile bested Argentina in the final for the second year in a row. In addition to Salas, and Bravo, Chile is also powered by forward Alexis Sanchez and midfielder Arturo Vidal. Aside from the rebuilding effort and additional talent, many feel what got Chile here is their fearless style of play and their willingness to take on the best teams on the planet.
The question now remains, how long will this reign last? Read more after the jump…