Chile overcome the demons from its inglorious footballing past by beating Argentina 4-1 on penalties to win the countrya s first ever Copa America title
As Alexis Sancheza s imperfect a panenkaa trickled over the goal line past a hapless Sergio Romero, a vast majority of the 48,000 people packed inside Chilea s iconic Estadio Nacional erupted in ecstasy. It ended La Rojaa s agonizing 99 year wait to be crowned the Copa America Champions. As thousands of Chileans danced into the night in the streets of Santiago celebrating their teama s success over bitter rivals Argentina, many were left wondering a what took them so long?
Chile was one of the four founding members of the CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) along with Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. The four of them participated in the first Copa America in 1916.
While its more illustrious South American neighbours went on to win multiple World Cups (Brazil (5), Argentina (2), Uruguay (2)) and Copa America titles (Uruguay (15), Argentina (14) and Brazil (8)), Chile remained the only one out of the founding 4 members of CONMEBOL to have never won either tournament.
Chilea s best performance in a World Cup came in 1962 on home soil when it finished 3rd after a 1-0 playoff win over Yugoslavia. This achievement though, was marred by Chilea s infamous 2-0 group stage win over Italy, popularly known as the a Battle of Santiagoa . It was an ill tempered affair which soon descended into utter chaos and anarchy as riot police intervened no less than four times in order to quell the storm. David Coleman of the BBC described it as the a most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.”
Chilea s International sporting credibility took a massive hit in 1973 when its notorious Army Chief August Pinochet launched a coup d’etat against the sitting President and established a brutal authoritarian regime in the country for the next 15 years. Chilea s National Football Stadium was turned into a slaughterhouse as Pinochet massacred thousands of political opponents inside it.
However, Chilean football truly reached its nadir in 1989 during a World Cup qualifier between Chile and Brazil. Chilean Goalkeeper Roberto Rojas plotted to eliminate Brazil by purposely cutting himself with a blade hidden inside his glove and blaming it instead of a flare thrown by a Brazilian fan in the crowd. FIFA, after examining the photographic evidence, awarded Brazil a 2-0 win and banned Chile from participating in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. Rojas was banned for life.
Having finished runners up on 4 different occasions, Chile havena t fared much better in the Copa America as well. The last time they reached the final was 28 years ago.
”This country deserved this because of everything that it has been through,” thundered Chile’s Manager Jorge Sampaoli in his post match press conference.
Much like the Argentines, Chilea s own golden generation of players led by Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Eduardo Vargas, were expected to put in a good showing in the Copa America final on home soil.
They went one better by winning it. Chile has well and truly begun its long walk on the path to redemption.