CHILE’S so nearly conquering heroes are sure of an incredible welcome on their return from a World Cup where they eliminated champion Spain but were cruelly knocked out by Brazil for the fourth time in their history.
“The dream is over, but not the applause,” said La Tercera newspaper in a chorus of praise round the nation. “Dry your tears and come back to Chile to be received with full honors.”
One of the strongest Chile teams seen at a World Cup, ‘La Roja’ (The Red) lit up the tournament from swashbuckling wins over Australia and Spain to a heart-breaking loss on penalties to Brazil after a pulsating 1-1 draw in the last-16 clash.
It was a desperately harsh outcome for Chile, which had matched the host for 120 minutes of normal and extra time, and could so easily have snatched it at the death when Mauricio Pinilla smashed a glorious shot against the crossbar.
A few centimeters lower, and Chile would have overturned a painful history of defeats by Brazil, which knocked it out of the 2010, 1998 and 1962 World Cups.
As it was, the ball bounced to safety, Brazil held its nerve for a 3-2 penalty shootout win at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao Stadium, and the old nemesis did it for a fourth time.
“The shot that could have changed our lives,” lamented one headline in Chile’s Las Ultimas Noticias newspaper.
Everywhere, Chileans hailed their team’s performance in a match quickly dubbed the ‘Battle of the Mineirao’ where Brazil’s hordes of yellow-clad fans were made to sweat and agonize until Chile’s final fateful penalty hit a post.
There was special praise for defender Gary Medel, nicknamed ‘The Pitbull’, who played despite an injury and was eventually carried off crying on a stretcher in the second half after successfully keeping Brazil forward Neymar at bay.
While Chile and Brazil’s benches were screaming at each other throughout the game, the respect between the players — and their shared pain during the shootout lottery — was clear for all to see. At the end, Neymar went one-by-one to congratulate his disconsolate and weeping opponents.
“Chile have been one of the great teams of this World Cup without a shadow of a doubt. Today luck was on our side and not theirs, but they deserve all the praise imaginable,” Brazil defender Dani Alves said.