Tears flow as hosts bid farewell

The last few days have been high on emotion for La Rojita and not without their ups and downs, from the nerves of their debut against Croatia and the dogged determination to take something from a heavy defeat to the mighty Nigeria, to the joy of beating USA for a place in the last 16 and the dejection of exiting the tournament on Wednesday.

“They’re all crying in the dressing room,” revealed coach Miguel Ponce following the 4-1 loss to Mexico that ended the hosts’ participation at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015.

When English referee Michael Oliver signalled the ended of the match, the Chile players slumped to the ground at the Estadio Nelson Oyarzun Arenas in Chillan. They stayed there motionless for several minutes. And though their team-mates and the coaching staff rose from the bench to offer solace and hugs, nothing could alleviate the pain of defeat for the disconsolate players in red.

Having rescued their tournament in their final group game, hopes were high among the Chileans that they could make further progress. “When you get this far and things start working out, as they did for us, you start to dream of going even further,” added Ponce, reflecting on what might have been.

Those hopes seemed to be justified when Ponce’s side took the lead against the Mexicans, the first time in the competition they have struck first. Within two minutes, however, El Tri, one of the favourites for the trophy, were level, with three second-half strikes putting paid to Rojita dreams of glory.

The fire still burns A dejected but proud Ponce found consolation in the ability of his players to stand up to the challenges they have faced throughout the tournament: “This team has come on so much in the last few months. They’ve faced some quality sides and still dared to play their football. And there’s not been one team, whether we’ve beaten them or they’ve beaten us, who’ve truly had the upper hand over us.”

If there is one thing La Rojita have shown in this World Cup, it is fight and determination, qualities that Ponce and his backroom staff worked hard to nurture in their preparations for the tournament. “We were very demanding with the boys in the lead-up to the competition,” he explained. “Our main objective was to ensure they didn’t end up having a hard time of it.”

Despite his best-laid plans, Ponce was powerless to prevent the tears from flowing as his players bade farewell to the competition. Looking on the bright side, he ended with a message of hope for them: “I want to say goodbye to them in the dressing room, the place where we have been through so many emotions, and I want to thank them for believing in what we were doing and for being prepared to run themselves into the ground if it came to that."

Laying down a challenge to his fearless charges, he signed off by saying: “You can’t buy that kind of desire, and I’m convinced that if they continue to show that kind of determination, the majority of them will go on and fulfil their dreams of playing the game professionally.”