"Chile are stronger than the earthquake" ran the message on one of the hundreds of banners waved by Chilean fans in the streets of Santiago after La Roja had kicked off their 2010 FIFA World Cup™ campaign with a 1-0 victory over Honduras. And though this could be considered somewhat insensitive given the loss of life and devastation caused by the 27 February earthquake and tsunami, it underlined the sense that success in South Africa could serve as a form of release for many people in the country after so much suffering.
Indeed, an estimated 58 per cent of the Chilean population were glued to their televisions from 7.30am local time, with streets empty, schools shut and offices and shops closed for business during the eagerly awaited Group H opener. Their dedication was rewarded by a high-octane performance from Marcelo Bielsa's charges, who achieved Chile’s first win at the global showpiece since an Eladio Rojas strike clinched victory by the same scoreline over Yugoslavia to secure third place on home soil in 1962.
Following the win over Los Catrachos, former Chile striker Ivan Zamorano, covering the tournament as a TV pundit, had this to say: "Chile put in a very solid display and were without doubt the best team that I've seen in the World Cup so far. There has been very little in the way of attacking ambition and so it's really nice to see a team which is brave, which looks for goals and has a clear game plan."
"I want to congratulate all the national-team players because we took a big step forward," said the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, who watched the game alongside his wife and hundreds of others in driving rain in the southern city of Dichato, one of the places worst-affected by February's natural disaster. "The first match is always the most difficult because there are always a lot of nerves, tension and high expectations. I'm sure that La Roja will have a lot more to offer in their subsequent matches," continued the head of state. "I hope we can pick up another victory against Switzerland. The players know that they're carrying the hopes of a country that has suffered a great deal and which deserves a huge dose of joy."
Nearby in the town of Duao, and also watching in the company of victims of the tragedy, was former national coach Nelson Acosta, who led Chile in their previous finals outing at France 1998. "It's very important to win your opening game. It was a top display, one worthy of this great crop of players. After the first round of matches, Chile and Germany were the teams which played most attacking and interesting football."
Further north in the capital Santiago, thousands of supporters packed the central locations of the Paseo Ahumada, Plaza de la Constitucion and Plaza Baquedano following the game and celebrated the win secured by Jean Beausejour's 34th-minute effort. "A win that lets us dream" was the headline of daily paper La Tercera in its online edition, echoing the jubilant scenes on the streets, while El Mercurio went for "Historic triumph fuels La Roja's South African dream" Finally came La Segunda, which added a wise note of caution, with Chile still to take on Switzerland and Spain in their remaining Group H encounters: "Bielsa wants more: We've not reached the second round yet."