Ivan Zamorano cuts a relaxed figure. His every gesture suggests a man who is loving every minute of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, both in his role as a pundit for a major TV channel and as a Chile fan-cum-legend.
Zamorano, nicknamed Bam Bam, attained hero status during the 14 years he spent flying the flag for his country on the pitch. He chalked up some 69 caps for La Roja between 1987 and 2001 and made his mark in a big way with 34 goals, including the 12 he notched on the road to France 1998, which remains a record in CONMEBOL qualifying. His greatest achievement, however, was finishing top scorer at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where he fired Chile to the bronze medal with six goals.
His generation, which included another hotshot up front in the shape of Marcelo Salas, is widely considered the country’s best ever. However, this was not enough to prevent them crashing out to Brazil in the Round of 16 in 1998, the same fate that befell Chile four years ago in South Africa.
FIFA.com caught up with Zamorano for a discussion of several hot topics in the run-up to Chile’s ‘rematch’ against Brazil, including the challenge of taking on the host country. Read on and check out the video to the right for even more.
FIFA.com: The current crop of Chilean players have set a lot of tongues wagging. Can they be likened to the generation you were part of at the 1998 World Cup?
Ivan Zamorano: No, the current generation has broken the mould. Chile have always had good players, but an entire generation of them is hard to come by. These guys have a different mentality. When you hear them talk, they all speak about becoming world champions. While two or three of us had played abroad in the 1998 squad, now 95 per cent of the players have done so. This team are better equipped to take on different international challenges: they have earned their stripes and are a lot more mature and experienced.
Still, it is hard not to feel that Nelson Acosta’s team, with you and Salas up front, had more firepower.[Laughing] I take your point. Salas and I were cut from the same cloth and all we ever thought about was scoring as many goals as possible for Chile. We’ve got some great forwards today, but we’re slightly lacking that goalscoring instinct. The tactics we’re using also have an influence, as we’re playing without a classic centre-forward. Different technical and tactical approaches have been adopted which have really bolstered the team. They may not have the same eye for goal, but they are making a lot more chances, showing a great deal more intelligence and creativity.
Does seeing all the buzz around this team make you wish you were still playing?
Does it ever! Whenever Chile play it’s a very special occasion for me and I’m left with mixed feelings. Playing for the national team was the most important experience of my life. Playing for and captaining your country, singing the national anthem at a World Cup or the Olympics is every footballer’s dream. You suffer more when you’re on the outside: you feel more anxious and nervous and you get more caught up in the emotions. It’s very moving to hear the anthem at the Maracana, to see the players sing it with their heart and soul, with droves of your fellow countrymen joining in. It’s a unique feeling. It makes me want to play, to be there and be 15 years younger. It’s a whirlwind of emotions. But I’m the team’s number-one fan and I’m delighted because the lads are giving us a lot to shout about.
Is this the best FIFA World Cup yet?
I’ve been lucky enough to experience the World Cup from every possible angle: I went to USA 1994 as a fan because I wanted to see [Diego] Maradona. In 1998 I captained my country and in 2010, like this time around, I covered the tournament for TV. Of the World Cups I’ve seen with my own eyes, this has been the best. We’re in a country where people live and breathe football, where football is a religion. I’m not surprised that we’ve witnessed extremely attacking football, with a lot of goals and entertainment. The group stage has really thrilled me this time round: the coaches have looked unshackled, showing themselves open to the idea of playing good football and running risks from a tactical point of view. I’m glad to have the chance to watch this World Cup.
You know Spanish football inside out. What’s your take on their elimination, against the backdrop of the free-scoring, attacking football that’s been played?
Football’s a funny game. One day you’re on top of the world and the next you’re packing your bags. These days, a team can’t simply show up and expect to win because of the colour of their shirt or their history. Spain failed to rise to the occasion and found themselves up against two opponents who made their life impossible from the get-go. The Netherlands got their game plan spot on, while Chile put in a perfect performance emotionally, tactically and physically. No team can get anywhere without planning, a structure, motivation and physical preparation.
Are there any players or teams that have blown you away so far?
There have been some fantastic one-off performances, such as France’s against Switzerland and the Netherlands and Chile’s against Spain, but nothing that’s blown me away. Only the best teams make it to the Round of 16, so I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. As for players, Neymar, Messi, Robben and Shaqiri have particularly caught my eye. They grab games by the scruff of the neck; it’s a pleasure to watch them play or to have them on your team because they are match-winners. Alexis Sanchez is the main man for Chile. Our greatest feats come when he really turns it on.