Chile’s Moment of Brilliance
The Copa America ended with Chile celebrating a long-awaited triumph and Argentina left wondering how much longer its title drought will last. It was a disappointing finish for Lionel Messi and his teammates, who haven’t won anything in 22 years, and a historic victory for an entire nation that desperately needed some reason to rejoice after getting too used to a long history of tragedies at home.
Chile, after enduring a series of droughts in the south, floods in the norths, an earthquake, two volcanic eruptions this year and the country of 17 million people celebrated a perfect ending to an emotional tournament.
Chile defeated Argentina 4-1 in a penalty shootout on the final of the South American tournament, finally winning a major title after decades of disappointments. “We have always been hit by tragedies,’’defender Jorge rojas said. “We deserve to enjoy this happiness.”
The entire nation was behind “La Roja” from the start, and the victory at the Estadio Nacional with President Michelle Bachelet cheering from the stands helped people take their minds away from recent natural disasters. These included the devastating 2010 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 500 people and destroyed nearly 220,000 houses in the country tucked by the Pacific Ocean.
Thousands of fans went on the streets of Santiago to celebrate the triumph. Shortly after the game ended, the players were welcomed by Bachelet at the presidential palace, where everyone took photographs by the coveted trophy. “This country deserve this because of everything that it has been through,” Chile’s Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli said.
The Copa America had the feel of a World Cup to Chileans. The national team entered the tournament as a title favourite, thanks to the support of the home crowd and one of its best generations of players. Fans closely followed the national team throughout the competition, attending practice sessions and getting out of their homes to greet players before matches.
The final came exactly 22 years after Argentina won its last trophy at the 1993 Copa America. Since then, it has failed in seven Copa Americas and six World Cups, with Messi playing in five of those tournaments. “We will just keep trying,” Argentina coach Gerardo Martino said.
Five nations in this year’s Copa America had reached the last 16 at the World Cup a year ago, but Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia never made it past the quarterfinals in Chile. Surprisingly Peru finished third for the second straight time after beating Paraguay in the third place match.
Brazil, coming off the humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup, was eliminated by Paraguay. The five-time world champions were without Neymar, who was banned from the competition after a confrontation with Colombian players in the group stage. Colombia, led by James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, disappointed from the start and lost to Argentina on penalties. Defending champion Uruguay, without suspended Luis Suarez, fell to Chile after star striker Edinson Cavani was red-carded for reacting to provocation by slapping defender Gonzalo Jara.
Chile star midfielder Arturo Vidal got to keep playing until the final despite crashing his Ferrari while allegedly driving drunk early in the tournament, a case that caught the attention of the entire country. The Copa America began in the wake of the FIFA corruption scandal that allegedly involved many South American officials and eventually forced president Sepp Blatter to announce he will be stepping down. CONMEBOL president Juan Angel Napout said that South America’s governing body needs “total and absolute change”.
Chile striker Eduardo Vargas and Peru forward Paolo Guerrero finished as the tournament’s leading scorers with four goals each. The Copa America returns next year with its centennial tournament in the United States.
By Sanjay K Bissoyi