The tears had started before Gonzalo Jara missed the decisive penalty as Chile were knocked out of the World Cup for the fourth time by Brazil. They had started in the 107th minute when Gary Medel could no longer continue.
His left leg was heavily bandaged up but he could no longer run or walk or even stand. If it was any other game he would not have played. But he insisted, even with one leg, he was going to play. And play he did until he no longer could.
He epitomises this Chile team. When the red jerseys go on, no matter if you play for Barcelona or Juventus, Nottingham Forest or Osasuna, normal men turn into warriors. Warriors representing a unique country with a dark past living in a brighter present.
In years to come, when people are thumbing through record books or reading on line, it will say Brazil won at the Estadio Mineirão. Which they did. But Chile played their part in a harum-scarum game, sending even those without any attachment to either nation through every emotion.
Chile took to the field and left everything on that field as they came from a goal behind to dominate the favourites for the World Cup on their home turf, losing out by a lick of cross bar paint then a width of a post . . .
Reverting back to the team which defeated Spain in what has arguably been Chile’s most balanced performance under Jorge Sampaoli, the game followed on from the second half of Chile’s defeat to Netherlands.
La Roja enjoyed more possession but in less dangerous areas as, once again, they came up against a wall – yellow shirts replacing orange ones. Brazil did not press as high or as ferociously as Chile but when they sniffed a chance to pounce they did so.
Marcelo Díaz was caught in possession as to was Alexis Sánchez in dangerous areas, while La Roja, led by Vidal, were frantic in their closing down promoting, as expected, a congested midfield. Howard Webb was busy blowing for fouls as both teams had to revert to long balls. Chile once again saw too much of the ball in areas where they couldn’t hurt Brazil and Brazil were much more dangerous when they had to go long. A feature of their play was looking for Neymar behind Francisco Silva.
Yet, it was once again a set piece which would be their downfall. A couple of early warnings had been sent in by Brazil before Thiago Silva flicked on a corner to the back post where David Luiz had wriggled himself goal side of Jara, the Nottingham Forest ban diverting the ball into the net.
In attack Chile were toothless. It has, at times, been a familiar failing for Chile under both Sampaoli and Marcelo Bielsa. They control possession, they work their way into the opposition half but they at times lack that cutting edge or penetration. They resorted to hopeful crosses from left and right which were being gobbled up by Brazil’s giants. Giants compared to the Chileans.
But out of nowhere, a sloppy Hulk pass was sprung on by Eduardo Vargas, who has had a quiet World Cup, who laid in Sánchez. The Barcelona man steadied himself, found his composure and slid the ball past Julio Cesar. It was a costly price for Brazil to pay. Chile have a sixth sense when it comes to putting pressure and forcing opposition into mistakes.
Despite the goal, this was Brazil’s half. Neymar was troubling Silva and found his way onto a long ball before it was loose in the box with Mauricio Isla hitting it off Fred and over the bar. A lucky escape as La Roja went into the half-time interval level.
The second half was to be Chile’s. Another cross field ball found Hulk who miss-hit a shot into the bottom corner, only for it to be ruled out for handball. A tight call and Chile were off the hook. But from then on they took control of proceedings as the pace of the game faded.
Helped by the arrival of Felipe Gutiérrez Chile started to play further up the park with the defence finally getting on top of their opponents. Charles Aránguiz almost netted what would likely have been the winner after a fabulous move down the right which involved one-touch quick passing as Isla got in behind the opposition defence, something which Chile have not seen enough of, but Aránguiz’s shot was pushed behind by Julio Cesar. There were similarities to the goal which Vargas scored against Spain.
Even as Jo missed a great chance at the back post the game petered out and into extra-time where legs and minds got heavier – both teams had ran themselves into the ground. Chile dropped back as they relied on penalties or either Mauricio Pinilla or Alexis Sánchez to produce a moment of magic.
That magic almost came when a shooting opportunity was nicely worked for Pinilla, but his shot smashed against the cross bar. A player who never fulfilled his potential he showed when Inter Milan signed him from Universidad de Chile, one who at one time was seen more in the gossip pages than the sports pages, almost became a living legend to millions with one sweep of his right boot.
It was left to penalties. Left to Brazil to knock Chile out the World Cup again.
Unfortunately for Chile they can no longer achieve their dream of becoming world champions. Recognised as the best the country has produced they will now move on to hosting a South American party of their own in next year’s Copa America, hoping to finally win the country its first every football trophy.
But for now, they will be remembered for their pace, their flair, their approach, their fans and their excitement. They’ve added greatly to what will likely go down as the best World Cup ever.
Just like the each and every match they play, it’s been some journey.
CHI, CHI, CHI . . .