Chilean football was in the doldrums until Marcelo Bielsa came along and led them to the 2010 World Cup with a golden generation of talent. Alexis Sanchez, Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal formed the spine of the side for a decade as La Roja became a major South American force.
The tournament in South Africa in 2010 saw Chile impress and excite the world with their fast, attacking football, which was in great contrast to the vast majority of the play on show in that World Cup.
Wins against Honduras and Switzerland was enough to see them through, but a 2-1 defeat to Spain in their final group game saw them finish second.
Brazil comfortably beat them 3-0 in the last 16 and the feeling was this tournament had come just too soon for this group of young players.
Bielsa’s resignation at the end of that year led to the appointment of Claudio Borghi. The ex-Colo-Colo manager struggled to keep the players disciplined on and off the pitch and was eventually replaced by yet another Argentine, Jorge Sampaoli.
Sampaoli was fresh from an incredible spell at Universidad de Chile where he led Chile’s second biggest club to a hat-trick of league titles and a historic Copa Sudamericana triumph in 2011. His side were not just successful, but brilliant to watch – drawing the world’s media to South America to analyze their tactics and style.
Sampaoli took over the reigns at the end of 2012 and his impact was instant, part in thanks to him managing many of his Universidad de Chile players again, but he impressed the superstars too with his tactics, approach and enthusiasm.
One of the players Sampaoli always seemed to get the best out of was Eduardo Vargas, who had earned a move to Napoli on the back of his performances in the aforementioned Copa Sudamericana triumph in 2011.
Vargas struggled for game time in the years leading up to the 2014 tournament, but he always remained a consistent goalscorer for his national team.
Chile’s World Cup campaign in Brazil started with a thrilling and nervy 3-1 victory over Australia. Chile flew out the blocks and were 2-0 up inside 15 minutes. They were pegged back before half-time before Beausejour sealed the triumph in injury time.
World and European champions Spain meanwhile had a shocking start to their title defence with a 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands. This result, combined with Chile’s victory over Australia meant a win for the South Americans would send the holders home after just two matches.
In Chile they say that this game was won just before kick off. It seemed like every seat in the iconic Maracana stadium had been sold to a Chilean, and that looked and sounded even truer when the respective national anthems were played.
The Chile anthem was deafeningly loud, the smirk on Gonzalo Jara’s face when the crowd join in on cue illustrates the confidence they had that day. The whole team swelled with pride in that moment and they must have felt unbeatable by the time the a cappella part came around.
Chile, clearly energised by this, got off to a fast start again when they created two chances inside the opening 90 seconds of the clash. Chile didn’t let Spain settle in the opening exchanges and their intense high pressing looked too much for the dazed Spanish to handle.
Spain briefly responded, and Bravo had to pull off a crucial save after 15 minutes.
Chile’s intense pressing pays off as Xabi Alonso plays an uncharacteristic loose ball to Vidal, who gives it to Sanchez to surge forward:
What Happened Next?
Charles Aranguiz added a second with a smart finish inside the box. Spain had chances either side of half-time, but Chile had plenty towards the end of the game to add to their total too. It finished 2-0.
Chile finished second, having lost to the Netherlands in their final group game. That set up yet another last 16 clash with Brazil. Chile had lost to Brazil in the semis of the 1962 tournament and in second round of the 1998 and 2010 World Cups.
They put in an incredible 120 minutes against the hosts, but were eventually beaten on penalties.
That defeat stood them in good stead though as they bounced back a year later to claim their first ever piece of silverware. They beat Argentina on penalties in the final of the Copa America on home soil under Sampaoli. They repeated the trick in 2016 in the USA with Juan Antonio Pizzi at the helm.
Chile failed to qualify for Russia 2018 after a mostly disappointing and tiring 2017, which also saw them lose the Confederations Cup final in Moscow to a weakened and defensive Germany.
Chile national anthem before the clash against Spain: