Despite their painful loss to Brazil on Monday evening, Chile made quite an impression at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. With their attacking style and desire to take the initiative at all times, La Roja's youthful squad acquitted themselves admirably throughout, drawing strength from some of the most colourful and enthusiastic supporters on parade at the world finals.
Right from the kick-off in their opening game against Honduras, Marcelo Bielsa's side made it patently clear that they had not travelled to South Africa to make up the numbers. Notching wins in their first two matches, the Chileans eventually took second place in Group H, behind Spain on goal difference. Their reward was a Round of 16 tie with their bogey team Brazil, who once again put paid to their hopes, just as they had done at the same stage of France 1998.
Though dejected at departing the competition, the young Chileans have time on their side and can look forward to a bright future, as versatile defender Gonzalo Jara told FIFA in an exclusive interview: "We were the youngest team at the World Cup and almost all of us are 23 or 24. The experience we've had here will come in really useful for us. We know what it's all about now and we'll be back for more in 2014."
Favourites going into their tournament bow against the Hondurans, Chile showed they could live up to the billing, turning in a nerveless display despite their lack of experience in major tournaments and dominating from start to end. The gulf between the two sides was barely reflected by the 1-0 scoreline.
Taking on a Switzerland side buoyed by their unexpected win over Spain, the Chileans generated chance after chance in another polished display, though all that separated the sides at the end of the 90 minutes was Mark Gonzalez's smartly taken second-half header.
Although they had barely put a foot wrong in their first two games, La Roja still had work to do. To make sure of a place in the last 16 they had to draw with Spain in their final match in Tshwane/Pretoria or hope that the Swiss failed to beat Honduras in Mangaung/Bloemfontein. Beaten 2-1 by the Spanish despite playing for over 55 minutes with only ten men, Bielsa's side were relieved to receive news of Switzerland's 0-0 draw, a result that set up a last-16 meeting with the five-time world champions.
Chile have traditionally found the Brazilians tough nuts to crack and the scenario was no different when the two sides ran out in Johannesburg on Monday evening. Putting up spirited resistance for the opening half-hour, during which they created some presentable opportunities, La Roja eventually succumbed to their streetwise opponents, falling to a 3-0 reverse that left little cause for complaint.
Taking a positive view, Bielsa's players are looking upon the experience as an essential part of their learning curve. "Obviously you're never happy after you've been beaten," said Jara, "but I think the team created a really good impression throughout the competition. We stayed true to our style, no matter who we came up against."
"We couldn't quite take the chances we created but we were up against a better side," added captain and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo after the game. "I think we can look back positively on this World Cup, especially when you consider that it's been 12 years since we last took part in the finals." There is little question, then, that Chile can be proud of their efforts at South Africa 2010. And with a talented generation of young, pacy and committed players set to mature over the next four years, their performances in the last couple of weeks should provide the perfect springboard for a return to the big stage at Brazil 2014.