Following their impressive showing at the last FIFA World Cup™, Chile's golden generation delivered on their promise to capture the country's very first Copa America – and on home soil to boot. As if that were not enough, La Roja's taste of continental glory also booked them a spot at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017, a competition in which they will make their debut.
A few months before the long road to Russia 2018 begins, the Copa America bore out a number of predictions, while also serving up a fair share of pleasant surprises and major let-downs from some countries. It was an exhilarating tournament that once again showcased the vibrancy and quality of South American football. FIFA.com looks back over the event, which drew to a fittingly dramatic close in Santiago on Saturday.
The hosts, expertly coached by Argentinian Jorge Sampaoli, thrilled with their displays of attacking football and pure heart. Spurred on by the home fans, the team lived up to their status as one of the pre-tournament favourites and showed the character to rise to the occasion. Having won hearts and minds at last year's World Cup – in which they were agonisingly beaten by Brazil on penalties – with a game plan based on controlled aggression, taking the game to opponents, free-flowing passing and relentless pressing, Chile followed the same recipe and this time got their reward.
La Roja's triumphant campaign was built on strong foundations: Arturo Vidal marshalled the midfield majestically, Alexis Sanchez led the charge going forward, Jorge Valdivia provided the creative spark and Claudio Bravo was a reliable presence between the sticks. They topped their group by beating Ecuador 2-0, drawing 3-3 with Mexico and thrashing Bolivia 5-0, before dumping out holders Uruguay with a 1-0 victory in the quarter-finals and easing past Peru 2-1 in the semis. They had to summon all of their steely resolve to overcome Argentina in the final, prevailing 4-1 in a shoot-out after the action remained goalless through normal and extra time.
Vidal's words after the match summed up what the conquest meant to the players: "We took an incredible step forward today. This is a dream come true; this team deserved something like this because of everything we've done. When we come together in the national team, we fight as if our lives depended on it." Galvanised by the joy of lifting their first ever major trophy, Chile will surely be among the frontrunners to secure a place at the next World Cup.
Fresh off their runners-up finish at Brazil 2014, Argentina once again fell at the final hurdle and failed to end a 22-year drought without senior silverware after another campaign in which they blew hot and cold. Gerardo Martino's men had positively torn apart Paraguay 6-1 in the semis, but their key men, including Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, were well below par in the decider. La Albiceleste can only hope the experience stands them in good stead further down the road and allows them to make any necessary adjustments ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
Peru and Paraguay were two of the main surprise packages, outperforming more vaunted rivals to reach the semi-finals and serve notice of their credentials (even if the latter had also been losing finalists last time around). On the other side of the coin were Colombia and Brazil, who had been heavily fancied in the build-up only to bow out shrouded in disappointment. Bolivia perhaps most exceeded expectations, making it through to the quarter-finals in effective, if unspectacular fashion to vindicate the new project currently being implemented at national team level. Deposed champions Uruguay can take consolation from a number of good performances from figures who are assuming the mantle as part of their transition. Meanwhile, despite some encouraging patches of play and some isolated results for the fans to shout about, Ecuador and Venezuela were largely unable to kick on from the progress they had exhibited in previous years. Nevertheless, they still gave a creditable account of themselves.
In addition to the players already mentioned above, Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina was another to catch the eye, particularly in the quarter-finals against Argentina, when he stood firm despite having everything thrown at him for 90 minutes. Veteran Peruvian forward Paolo Guerrero had another great Copa America, having shone four years ago, and ended up the joint-top scorer on four goals. Paraguayan starlet Derlis Gonzalez displayed glimpses of the talent that Albirroja coach Ramon Diaz has put so much faith in, while Nicolas Otamendi cemented his position at the heart of the Argentina defence. Indeed, the centre-back was his team's best player in the final.
Did you know?
By guiding Chile to glory, Argentinian Jorge Sampaoli became the third coach to win the title with a country other than his homeland. Englishman Jack Greenwell and Brazilian Danilo Alvim had previously achieved the feat, with Peru (1939) and Bolivia (1963) respectively.
64 - The number of goals scored during the tournament, ten more than four years ago in Argentina. With 86 strikes, Venezuela 2007 remains the highest-scoring edition since the competition switched to its current format in 1991.
What they said
"We're not used to winning anything, anything at all, as a country, so this is an exception. We pulled out all the stops today; we knew that we had to win it and we're proud. We've put our negative history behind us: this generation is privileged. All the Chilean people should enjoy this victory and savour it like nothing before because it really is unique," Chile captain Claudio Bravo.