Chile have waited 52 years for the chance to get revenge on Brazil.
In 1962, on the only occasion the World Cup was held in Chile, the hosts were only denied a place in the final by the effervescent brilliance of Brazil, who won 4-2 on a fiery day in Santiago.
Garrincha’s two goals were the difference in that meeting, although the mercurial winger grew so angry about the physical treatment he was receiving from the home side that he was sent off before the final whistle for lashing out.
The 77,000 fans in attendance in Santiago were furious at the man known to his friends as Mane, both for his conduct and denying them their fairytale ending.
“It led to a huge melee,” team-mate Pele recalled in his autobiography. “When he [Garrincha] was walking off the pitch a bottle cut open his head and he needed stitches.”
For the locals, it was a painful defeat—one they did not take well.
As Julio Martinez, journalist for Chilean publication Estadio, wrote of the game (via FIFA.com): “Brazil beat us again, snuffing out a nation’s hopes…One can deduce that Brazil has become a perpetual killjoy for Chilean football.”
Wind on to 2014, and Brazil remain Chile's perpetual killjoys. But it is now La Roja who have a chance to inflict the same trauma on one of their most familiar foes, with the two countries set to meet in the last 16 of the competition on Saturday.
Unfortunately, past experience suggests Chile have little hope of gaining a modicum of (belated) payback in Belo Horizonte.
Since that 1962 encounter, the two countries have met at the World Cup on two further occasions. Both games also came in the round of 16, and both resulted in Brazil wins by a three-goal margin.
In 1998, Brazil won 4-1. In 2010, it was 3-0. On both occasions, Chile were never really in the contest.
“Perhaps the margin of victory was a bit excessive but, overall, it was clear just how superior our opponents were,” then-coach Marcelo Bielsa told reporters after the 2010 defeat in Johannesburg,
“We did a good job despite being one of the youngest sides in the competition, which makes me think that, with the benefit of more experience, we can continue to progress in the future.”
Now, however, things might—just might—be different. Chile may not have beaten Brazil in any competition since a World Cup qualifier in 2000 (drawing just two of the 12 meetings since), but they are clearly riding the crest of a wave at the moment.
They beat England at Wembley in late 2013 (something Brazil could not manage a few months earlier) and started this World Cup as well as anyone, at least until Monday’s late collapse against Netherlands consigned them to second in Group B, and a meeting with the oldest of enemies.
Yet even in that game there was much to admire, as Chile took the game to a side that had eviscerated Spain 5-1 to start the competition. Jorge Sampaoli’s team dominated possession and created a number of great openings against a side some now anticipate could reach at least the semi-finals, before being undone from a set piece.
"We looked for victory, we wanted to win and we couldn't find a solution to a team that only defended and only aspired to long-range shots, not even counter-attacks,” Sampaoli said afterward. "This is a Chile that I am proud to be at the helm of, in spite of the fact that we didn't get a result.
"The courage of the group, they have their heads held high and they are getting ready for the round of 16."
Chile clearly have their weaknesses—their defence has a glaring lack of height, making them vulnerable at set pieces and to long balls, while the lack of an out-and-out striker limits their possibility of employing a Plan B in attack—but in terms of organisation, fitness and technique on the ball, they have had few equals so far in this tournament, even including the hosts.
Brazil romped to a 4-1 win over Cameroon a few hours after Chile’s defeat on Monday, but even that performance was less than fully convincing. The defence conceded against an attack that had been held goalless by both Mexico and Croatia, while going forward the team was once again over-reliant on Neymar, at least until the game had been won.
Then Fred, much to everyone’s relief, tapped home his first goal of the tournament, before Fernandinho rounded off a slick team move that hinted at a more expansive, cohesive offensive style to come.
Fernandinho said afterward the team had rediscovered some of its old spirit. His No. 10 agreed.
“We’re on the right track, improving all the time,” Neymar told reporters (per Jack Lang of the Daily Mirror) after the game. “We’re hopefully getting closer to our goal.
“It’ll be a very tough game [versus Chile]. A lot of big teams have suffered. There aren’t any weak teams here.”
The match is an oddity in that both teams would probably have preferred to face different opponents—ones they knew less intimately. Chile, aware of their record, will know the odds do not favour them. But Brazil will also know few teams have pushed them so hard in recent times.
Their two friendly meetings since the 2010 World Cup have been close; a 2-2 draw in the Mineirao (where Saturday's game will be played) last April and a late 2-1 defeat in Toronto last November.
"If I could choose, I would choose another opponent," Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari acknowledged on Monday. "Chile have a lot of quality."
But for Chile to win now would be the sudden reversal of over half a century of form.
With the powerful midfield base (Arturo Vidal should return for the match) and twinkle-toed attackers, Chile try to play the game in a similar way to the Selecao (if anything, Scolari's pragmatic streak has curbed his side's traditional instincts).
Perhaps it is just geography and sociology, the similar cultures leading to similar sporting approaches. Perhaps it is just coincidence.
Whatever the case, Chile will almost go into the meeting trying to beat Brazil at their own game—a test the hosts have not had to face so far in this World Cup.
Yet Martinez, even as far back as 1962, sensed this very mimicry was Chile’s enduring problem, the very reason why they always seemed to lose to Brazil:
If we look at the bigger picture, it is easy to explain.
The two countries have very similar ideas and styles…and when styles of play and game plans are the same, it is simply the greater quality, or the genial nature of a few exceptional individuals, that makes the difference.
Brazil will hope they have that quality, and those players, once more. But it is far from the foregone conclusion it perhaps once was.
Chile will go into the meeting as confident as they have been in a long time.
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