More than just a trophy
Unbelievable. I mean I literally couldn’t believe it. July 4, 2015— Chile finally won its first international title. They are champions of Copa América 2015. The victory was the result of an evolution I had witnessed since it began.
I’ll always remember where I was when Alexis Sánchez kicked in his cheeky “Panenka-style” penalty and changed everything. At the time I was living in Georgia— The Deep South. Not exactly fútbol country. To make things more difficult, it was the Fourth of July so nobody was in the mood for soccer. Some of my friends were confused.
“Wasn’t the World Cup last year?”
Nothing could foul my mood that day. So what did I do? I went on Twitter. Chileans from around the world were uploading their reactions. Videos of families, friends and viewing parties at bars and parks — I could see how my compatriots were celebrating the biggest soccer achievement of our country’s history.
From the outside, this team might seem like it came from nowhere. Chile was never considered a powerhouse in the soccer world. Sure, sometimes we would produce some strong players who would do well in Europe, but most did not see us the same as they saw Uruguay for example. Not even the Chileans themselves.
To understand how this team earned the worldwide respect it now enjoys, is to follow a journey which began six years ago.
First, a strong showing at the World Cup in 2010. A young team, with experience in the under-20 and under-23 national squads, had a “loco” at the helm. Marcelo Bielsa created a new Chile. South America’s soccer confederation, CONMEBOL, is one of the most competitive in the world. It’s an accomplishment just to qualify for the World Cup.
The team showed up to South Africa with guarded confidence. It showed in how they played. They lacked the experience but they had the heart. So when they fell to Brazil (as is customary when Chile goes to the World Cup) Chileans saw this as not a poor result but just the beginning. We’d get further next time.
Fast forward to 2014. Chile, now a much more mature and experienced team goes to Brazil with the intention to go far. This time we believed it. That’s why, when we fell to a lackluster Brazil (again) it hurt. We were proud of our “guerreros” but we were hungry for more. With Chile hosting the Copa América the following year, the country felt like it was our time.
Turned out it was.
When Claudio Bravo, the team’s captain hoisted the cup into the air, the country let out a cry of happiness, frustration and relief. Something that had eluded us for years. Something the “experts” said we were never going to have. Something that rivals said we didn’t deserve. We finally had it. No one will take 2015 away from us.