Rarely in FIFA World Cup™ history has the margin between victory and defeat been narrower than it was for Chile in Belo Horizonte. Only a couple of inches – the angle of a crossbar, then of a post – stood between Mauricio Pinilla scoring a glorious winner, and Gonzalo Jara avoiding the fate of penalty villain.
“It would have been the Mineirazo,” lamented coach Jorge Sampaoli, referring to Brazil’s famous Maracanazo defeat to Uruguay in 1950. “We would have made history forever.”
As it was, the Chileans were left to reflect with pride on a performance Sampaoli described, quite rightly, as “beautiful”, but a result that brought only bitter disappointment. “Moral victories don’t count in situations like this,” acknowledged the crestfallen coach.
Given the stakes involved, and the potential rewards of victory, it was impossible for La Roja’s players to avoid dwelling on what might have been. For Marcelo Diaz – a tireless midfielder who typified the team’s spirit and style – the sight of Pinilla’s extra-time effort crashing back off the woodwork lingered like a lost dream.
“We were so close,” he told FIFA. “But when that one didn’t go in, I started to wonder if luck might not be on our side today. Maybe this was a match we just weren’t destined to win. But we put a lot into this tournament and we go home proud, with our heads held high.”
Before the match, Sampaoli had issued a challenge to his players. “If we don’t show courage against a team that will have not only the whole stadium, but an entire country, behind them, the result will be clear. We cannot afford to be fearful.”
La Roja, of course, were not so much fearful as fearless, and while pain trumped pride at this tender stage in their recovery, they will realise in time that they have earned millions of new fans. Those admirers certainly include the players who progress at their expense, with Dani Alves one of several Brazilians keen to express esteem for the worthiest of opponents.
“Chile have been one of the great teams of this World Cup without a shadow of a doubt,” the Barcelona star told FIFA.com. “Today luck was by our side and not theirs, but they deserve all the praise imaginable. The way they are able to put pressure on the opposition defence is simply amazing. We knew this was going to be one of our toughest tests and, indeed, it is a gigantic barrier we have overcome. ”
Naturally, the rawness of their defeat made it difficult for Chile’s players to draw consolation so soon after the final whistle, even from such generous words of praise. Nonetheless, Diaz admitted to feeling that, if nothing else, his team can head for home safe in this knowledge: they could not have given anything more.
“We gave everything,” said Diaz, who had kept Chile alive in the shootout prior to Jara’s crucial miss. “We never gave up for a second and we played Brazil as equals. We knew it would be tough – we were up against one of the great nations in world football – but we went toe-to-toe with them and played extremely well. The performance is one we can all be proud of. It’s just the way that it ended is tough for us to take right now. Whatever you say, there’s no doubt it’s very painful to lose in this way.”