Never has a defeat tasted so sweet for Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa. Though his side had just gone down 2-1 to Spain, El Loco was all smiles as he celebrated his side’s qualification for the Round of 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, their place in the knock-out rounds confirmed by Switzerland’s goalless draw with Honduras.
Prior to the tournament the Argentinian swore he would do everything in his power to ensure his side would stay as long as possible in South Africa. His determination to do so is explained by his immense popularity in his adopted country and also his desire to make up for the failure of his Argentina side at Korea/Japan 2002, when the much-fancied Albiceleste surprisingly went out in the group phase.
“Nothing will ever heal that scar,” he said after Chile’s place in the next round had been confirmed. “They are entirely different situations and this one doesn’t make up for that one.”
"He was the reason we got here"
Aware of the pain Bielsa endured in the Far East eight years ago, his players only had words of support and praise for their coach. “We are very happy for him,” said Rodrigo Millar, Chile’s solitary goalscorer against Group H winners Spain. “He was the reason we got here in the first place and he’s been crucial to what we’re doing here in South Africa.”
Team-mate Jean Beausejour echoed those words: “This qualification is for him, for our families and for all the people of Chile, who put their faith in us and supported us all the way. This is a triumph we can all celebrate.”
An achievement to celebrate
Back in the finals for the first time since France 1998, Chile’s safe negotiation of the group phase represents no mean achievement and was rightly celebrated by the players, who were delighted to spread some joy among the fans back home. “We know we’re making the people in Chile happy with what we’re doing here,” said a grinning Millar. “I’m sure they’re having a party, although we really would have liked to give them a victory tonight.”
“It’s a bittersweet taste,” added Beausejour. “It would have been nice to have taken them on with 11 men but at least we managed to reach our main objective of getting to the last 16. We couldn’t be more motivated for the game against Brazil.”