Temuco embraces gallant Rojitas

For many people a visit to Chile involves seeing the capital Santiago, the coastal cities of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso or its wonderful Pacific territory, Easter Island. But today as we traverse the country to bring you coverage of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008, our journey takes us to the southern city of Temuco. We are here not just because the city's Estadio German Becker will stage China PR's crunch group match against USA on Wednesday, but also because Temuco is where Chile's valiant U-20 side will bid an emotional farewell to the competition.

"I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain...". The words, those of Chile's most famous poet Pablo Neruda, pay homage to his native Temuco, the capital of the Arucania region and home to some 250,000 of Chile's indigenous Mapuche population.

This week, however, it is football, not literary matters, that top the agenda here. Las Rojitas have arrived in the city that gave us Marcelo 'El Matador' Salas, one of the most ruthless strikers ever to come out of Chile. With their game here, Marta Tejedor's young squad are keen to pay tribute to the birthplace of one the nation's sporting idols, and more importantly to thank the Chilean public, who have given them such warm and unconditional support during their long build-up and opening two games (a 2-0 defeat to England and a 4-3 reverse against New Zealand).

"We have to keep going forward with maturity and the support of the public. We're eternally grateful to the fans because never once did they stop believing in us. Thanks to them we were able to stand up to our opponents in both games," says Colo Colo defender Dominique Hisis emotionally.

The team's Spanish coach is doing all she can to raise the spirits of her players, still understandably affected by their failure to survive the group stage despite a tremendous effort against New Zealand.

Team captain Daniela Pardo is optimistic the team can give their wonderful fans the victory they deserve. "We've only been working together for two years, so we have to continue to push ourselves to try to get better results. Hopefully we'll enjoy the game against Nigeria and give ourselves and our fans something to cheer about," she says.

Chile always knew coming out of their group would be tough with their three section rivals all above them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking. And though their first-half performance against England and sterling comeback against the Kiwis showed enough courage and creativity to engender optimism, they can expect no favours from the physically and technically imposing Nigerians, who still have to secure their last-eight berth.

While Las Rojitas continue their training ahead of their farewell here, Temuco prepares to receive them with honours. There have been long queues at the ticket offices with no one wanting to miss the chance to see to their national team at a FIFA event. Expect a full house on Wednesday night at the Estadio German Becker, when this young side, aided by 18,000 affectionate fans, will once again sing their national anthem before heading into battle.