Those who expected a team playing in orange and another who wear red to qualify from Group B of the 2014 World Cup Brazil 2014™ were right - except for the identity of the red team. Their predictions were turned upside-down when reigning champions Spain were defeated by Jorge Sampaoli’s exciting Chile side.
"Knocking-out the world champions shouldn’t be underestimated. We’ve proven we can play to a high level against anyone. We demonstrated it in friendlies in the past, but of course that’s not the same as doing it at the World Cup," Chilean midfielder Carlos Carmona told FIFA.
"I think it has also helped us believe that we can compete at the highest level,” the 27-year-old said confidently. “Our performance was impressive in every way. We exploited their weaknesses, and we got the three points that allowed us to qualify for the next phase. It was a historic match for our country. We started well and ended the game the stronger team too. We’re so happy and proud. It was an indescribable feeling."
The player from Italian side Atalanta only entered the historic clash at the Maracana in the final minutes. But he is not complaining. "We hope that it’s a long World Cup for Chile. So we all have to be ready,” he said, explaining the importance of being a substitute. “We have a starting line-up with some great players, but when those on the bench come on they have to be ready to give their all and put in a strong performance. We all have to help share the pressure in every game. When a substitute comes on, he needs to be ready to maintain the level of performance of the player he is replacing.”
Physically speaking, playing for Chile demands a great deal of the players, as Sampaoli’s approach is to put pressure on the team’s opponents on every area of the pitch and to attack at great speed. It is 90 minutes of pure physical sacrifice. "We’ve played this way for a long time, and there’s no reason to change it now. It’s the coach’s philosophy. We practice playing like this every day," said Carmona, who was part of the Chile squad that went to the 2010 World Cup South Africa.
At that tournament, just as in France in 1998 (the two most recent FIFA World Cups in which the team competed) the side that sent Chile home was Brazil. Perhaps it would not be surprising, then, if Sampaoli’s men hoped to avoid the same opponent from Group A this time around.
"Our success or failure will depend on our own performance. Brazil would be very tough opponents, but so were Spain, and so are the Netherlands. They are teams with a tremendous history and amazing players. But I wouldn’t say we want to avoid Brazil. First we want to defeat the Netherlands, our next opponent. Then we'll think about what's coming next," said Carmona.
Chile have already defeated the team that won the last World Cup, and now face the side that finished as runners-up in South Africa, with whom they are disputing the leadership of the group (and a potential match-up with Brazil in the next round). But Carmona preferred not to speculate. "They’re a great team with good players in all areas. We have to be prepared. I hope it's a great game and we get the three points that will give us first place in the group."
Watch out, Netherlands. This surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) team is hungry for another scalp. The Chilean La Roja seem to be enjoying the tag of giant killers.