Thursday, 17 June 2010

Chile turns on the style to end 48 year wait for win

Chile 1 Honduras 0, played in Nelpsruit, celebrated wildly in Santiago

It's been far too long for a football-mad nation like Chile. 12 years since their last appearance in the World Cup and 48 years to the very day since their last victory, a 1-0 win against Yugoslavia in the third place play-off match of 1962. After this thrilling, but ultimately tense, victory over Honduras it was clear to see how much it meant to the people of the Santiago.

Much has been made of the deafening sounds of the vuvuzelas inside the South African grounds, but they were more than matched by the incessant blaring of horns in and around Plaza ConstituciĆ³n.

The early morning gloom wasn't about to stop the hoards congregating around the huge big screen that had been erected outside the Palacio de la Moneda. In fact there was a lovely contrast between La Roja's fans in Nelspruit, resplendent in their bright red shirts and basking in the sunshine, and the fans in the Plaza, wrapped up against the cold, waiting for the light to come.

And when the TV station cut to a commercial break before the Chilean anthem was completed, the passionate crowd was more than happy to accept the challenge and finish it off. There were big cheers too for President Sebastian Perera who was shown taking his seat for the game in Dichato, scene of much devastation during the earthquake earlier this year. Although most cheers were reserved for absent striker Humberto Suazo who had to spend the duration of the match on the bench. His time will come.

The fans' enthusiasm was matched by the actions of the players on the pitch, who were clearly ready to make up for lost time. Make no mistake, this was a vibrant performance, bursting with life and energy. From the outset there was a confidence (dare I say swagger) about much of their play, particularly from the irrepressible ALexis Sanchez. Always willing to receive the ball, his constant driving runs were a feature of both halfs and most of La Roja's best moments involved him. One game against Honduras isn't enough to make a reputation but all eyes will be on him in the next 2 matches.

The goal when it came was typical of the direct and exciting brand of football Chile is trying to play. Following more good work from Sanchez, a lovely through ball released Mauricio Isla and his cross was just about bundled in by Beausejour to complete a flowing move. It was the least La Roja deserved. It wasn't just Sanchez - Valdivia was very bright in midfield and the Biesla must take praise for setting his team up to play in such a fashion. After a few stodgy games this was just what the tournament needed.

If there were fears that Chile would run out of steam in the second half, these fears were soon allayed by more positive play from Biesla's team. Sanchez looked sure to get on the score sheet but when presented with a clear sight of goal inside the box, he could only fire wide. However the best chance to double the lead fell to Waldo Ponce. His diving header from only 6 yards out was not strong enough and Valladares in the Honduras goal made a wonderful, scrambling save. If Ponce had gone with his foot instead of his head then surely La Roja would have had the 2nd goal it deserved.

But the goal never materialised, despite Sanchez being given the freedom of the right wing by the Hondurans. Every free-kick from Chile looked like creating a goal-scoring chance but in the end Biesla's men had to settle for 1 and a priceless victory. The fans were not going to let the lack of goals stand in the way of a good celebration as they swarmed into Baquedano, flags waving and a chant of 'Chi-Chi-Chi...Che-Che-Che...' never far from earshot.

But with Switzerland unexpectedly beating Spain will Chile pay for its lack of goals? It was clearly on Biesla's mind after the game:

'We could have scored more goals and we were on top. You can't foresee what will happen, but if the group is decided in that way [on goal difference] then we will rue the chances we missed.'

A note of caution but for now there is only optimism and excitement ahead of the match against the Swiss on Monday.

How they lined up: Bravo (Captain), Ponce, Isla, Medel, Carmona (Yellow card), Vidal (Contreras, 81), Valdivia (Gonzalez, 87), Fernandez (Yellow card), Millar (Jara, 52), Sanchez, Beausejour

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