Thursday, 24 June 2010

Chile On The Brink Of History

How appropriate it is, in this Chile´s bicentenary year, that the old Colonial masters stand between La Roja and a place in the next round of the World Cup.

In September of this year, the celebrations will begin in earnest but there might just be time for a few more parties before then. The BBQs will be fired up at lunchtime tomorrow in homes all over Santiago and beyond, the crowds will flock to Plaza de la Constitucion to watch the action on the big screen and there are sure to be more than a few ´half-days´ taken.

It could be a fairly unproductive afternoon in the city´s offices as people rush home in time for the 2.30pm kick-off. For those that can´t find a reason to leave the office, it will be off with the shirt and tie and on with the famous red jersey. Given the right result, the city might just burst with excitement. Think you´ve seen some celebrations already? You ain´t seen nothing yet.

Only once before has Chile played Spain in the biggest sporting event in the world. That was 29 June 1950 in the Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro. The spoils that day went to Spain who won 2-0. 60 years is a long time to wait to turn the tables but opportunity knocks for Chile today.

Today´s game is arguably Chile´s biggest match since the encounter with Brazil in the Round of 16 in 1998. History could yet repeat itself: if Chile manages to progress Dunga´s men are one of their potential opponents in the next stage.

The only other time Chile has managed to negotiate a way into the second round was in the glorious tournament of 1962, which they hosted. That was certainly Chile´s finest hour, losing only to, yes you guessed it, Brazil in the semi-finals.

There´s certainly a sense that the world order is shifting ever so slightly in South Africa, and it´s the European teams that are struggling. Spain started the tournament as champions elect in many people´s eyes, but they have flattered to deceive thus far. They will not be blind to the fortunes of France and Italy. The 2006 finalists are already on the plane home. Spain will be anxious to avoid making it an unwelcome hat-trick.

So what do Chile need to do today? Well for starters, play with the same vim and vigour they showed in the first two matches. Secondly banish any thoughts of settling for the draw that would see them top the group. If the game finishes all-square there will be no complaints from anyone, but the mentality of the players must be to attack. Bielsa will be reinforcing this message in the moments before the game but, thankfully, with the players at his disposal they do not have any other option.

If they are to make history, then surely their star of the tournament so far, Alexis Sanchez, will be to the fore. He´s dismissed comparisons of himself with Cristiano Ronaldo but his performances in the opening games have made them inevitable. Today Alexis has the chance to really arrive on the world stage and prove that he can turn on the magic against quality opponents. A first World Cup goal would help. And he might just have the chance to go toe-to-twinkling-toe with Ronaldo yet. If not Brazil, Portugual could well be waiting for La Roja next up.

But we get ahead of ourselves. One game at a time as the footballing cliche goes. Play with pride, play with passion and play them off the park.

Vamos Chile!

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