Chile emerge from group stage triumphant but tense

It’s job just about done for Jorge Sampaoli’s team as they came through the group stage with a 5 – 0 thrashing of Bolivia, but the atmosphere remains tense around the side after the controversy of Arturo Vidal’s drunk driving incident.

The post-match  interview with Jorge Valdivia, one of the stars of that match, showed how bruised the squad is still feeling:

After a couple of innocuous answers that the team was “happy for how we played…how many goals we scored…happy for Alexis, Gary, Charlie [Aranguiz] and Arturo as well”, Valdivia launched into an attack on the Chilean media and the interviewer Claudio Bustios.

“I want to ask a favour, lots of things have been said, by you above all Claudio…I hope this is live, I hope they haven’t cut me off. It was a tremendous lack of responsibility…because I’m the first to thank Sampaoli and I ask please that you don’t mix me up in any more problems. It was said I was with Arturo. Afterwards it was said that I had problems with Sampaoli…I already paid for my sins, paid for all the bad things I did and I hope that you guys understand that it wasn’t a good atmosphere, and that you don’t mix me up in problems again.  I try to train, stay quiet and I ask that you leave me in peace to train and play.”

Valdivia was referencing the rumours that quickly spread in the wake of Vidal’s crash and the decision by the Chilean football federation and Sampaoli not to withdraw him from the side, that several players had threatened retaliation if the Juventus player was punished.

In the end the match was successful in drawing the attention away from “The King” Vidal as well, as he went off at half-time. It was “The Prince” Charles Aranguiz’s two goals along with Alexis Sanchez finally scoring and Valdivia’s excellent performance that became the triumphant focus.

That was followed over the weekend by a media-relations blitz of the Chilean footballer’s Father’s Day celebrations. Vidal led the way with a Twitter picture featuring his kids, including son with matching haircut.

Chile now seem to be well placed to take on Uruguay and Neymar’s ban for the rest of the Copa America may well have catapulted them to co-favourite status with Argentina.

However the win over Bolivia hasn’t blown away the country’s ambivalence. From a footballing perspective, that’s because it was just Bolivia and no-one is ready to take that as a sign of things to come when Chile haven´t beaten Uruguay in the Copa America since 1983.

But there’s also a moral dimension. The firm majority of Chileans I’ve talked to, and those that were interviewed on the news, felt that Vidal should have been kicked out of the squad. His attitude during the arrest – claiming that they could handcuff him but it would “**** on all of Chile” – revealed an entitled attitude that wasn’t wiped away by his tearful press conference.

That reek of entitlement smells especially bad to Chileans who have spent the last couple of months learning about a corruption scandal involving politicians on both political sides being paid for non-existent work. It came as a shock to a country that prides itself on having a cleaner political environment than the rest of South America. An opinion piece in the daily newspaper La Tercera entitled “By right or by force” attacked the entire event as “a grand occasion to clean ever more deteriorated images. Not only of the authorities but our own. Forgetting our domestic problems and our personal miseries, La Roja is winning and while that happens nothing matters.”.

Every sporting event is accompanied by this type of criticism but there’s a feeling that the team, the Copa and the country are at a delicate moment. A victory over Uruguay, with an easy semi-final match to come after, and Chileans might get as carried away as they dearly want to be. A loss and there will be some harsh recriminations about more than just what happened on the pitch.