Edmonton savours Chilean invasion
© Foto-net

The bar across the street from the Chile team hotel in Edmonton is called The Sherlock Holmes and there was one big mystery that the fictional detective would have had to investigate had he been in town after the South Americans' win over Congo: Where on earth did all those Chileans come from?

Edmonton turned into 'Poco Santiago' as many thousands of ex-pats flocked to the city to watch the game and then celebrated in football's time-honoured fashion, with car horns tooting and blaring to acclaim a victory that had taken Chile into the knockout rounds and firmly on course to go a long way at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

The football had a little competition when it came to attracting fans to Edmonton on Thursday night. While early-80s soft rockers Air Supply were "All Out of Love" in concert up at the nearby River Cree Casino, there was no shortage of passion at Commonwealth Stadium where the sweetest music of all was made by Chile supporters, who sang all night in an emotion-charged occasion that delivered sights and sounds to behold.

Mass migration
For Chile coach Jose Sulantay, the explanation for this influx of his compatriots was "elementary". He had done his detective work long before the tournament and knew that a huge number of his fellow Chileans have emigrated to Canada in recent decades. However, even he was taken aback by the scale of their support during their second successive 3-0 win in Group A.

"I have been involved in football for 50 years and tonight made me very, very happy," Sulantay told FIFA.com. "A lot of Chileans have been in Canada for 30 years after leaving the country because of the political situation in the 1970s and it was nice to be able to give the people this victory. Psychologically, that's a long, long time to be away from your country and I feel so much for them... it's all love.

"When the same team played in Chile they whistled at us! Sometimes Chileans can be negative and it's very tough for us but this was so special. The fans wanted to see something from their country because they are not at home and it was beautiful to be here," Sulantay added.

"Before our first game against Canada in Toronto I spoke from my heart to the players. I grabbed the Chile flag on my shirt and asked them: 'How much is that worth? What do your friends and families and Chile itself expect from you?' I told them they would have to give everything for all those people who came to see them. With that atmosphere tonight, I can't wait to come back to Edmonton."

'Just fantastic'
Across in The Sherlock Holmes, Derek Alejandro Van Diest was just one of those in celebratory mood. He was born in Santiago but has been in Alberta's provincial capital since his family left South America in 1979 when he was only six years' old and the night when Chile came to Edmonton will be one he will always remember. "It wasn't a surprise to me but it was just fantastic to see so many people from Chile here and it made me wonder just what it would be like to watch a game back in the old country with the whole stadium full of home fans," he said.

Exiled Chileans were not the only ones with good cause to raise a glass to their nation's fortunes in Edmonton on Thursday. Austria beat tournament hosts Canada 1-0 to move onto four points and although their followers were not as great in number as Chile's, their commitment to the cause was just as impressive.

Markus Schwarzenberger hails from Innsbruck but he is in Canada to work for a couple of years and could not resist making the four-and-a-half hour drive from Grande Prairie, Alberta just to see the game. If Austria finish in the top two of Group A, they will return to Edmonton along with Chile for the second round and the agricultural labourer would not miss it for the world. "This was a great day for me... we were awesome," the 21-year-old said. "Just like the famous Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger says, I'll be back!"