World Cup 2014: Chile Can Go Home with Pride After Defeat to Brazil

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2014

Chile soccer fans watch their team's World Cup round of 16 match with Brazil on TV in Santiago, Chile, Saturday, June 28, 2014. Chile lost the match to Brazil 3-2 on penalties after the game ended 1-1. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
Luis Hidalgo/Associated Press

For the neutral, the second-round game between Brazil and Chile presented something of a quandary.

On the one hand, any tournament suffers if the hosts depart before their time, but particularly this World Cup which has been billed as the ultimate celebration of football in the ultimate football country. A World Cup in Brazil without Brazil seems unthinkable.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

On the other, losing a team as dynamic and exciting as Chile is a blow to this wonderful spectacle of a tournament, which has surprised and delighted the football world into a state of childlike enthusiasm.

While Chile perhaps didn't play in the exhilarating style that has made them such a vital addition to this tournament in the eventual defeat on penalties, their departure is nonetheless a dreadful shame.

Indeed, perhaps the doughty manner in which they went about playing Brazil in Belo Horizonte makes it more of a shame, for it displayed how adaptable both the team and coach Jorge Sampaoli are. Sampaoli knew that trying to beat the hosts by playing an all-out attacking game would be unwise at best, footballing suicide at worst, so he set up to play on the counter-attack, to contain Brazil and to try and snatch what chances they could get.

And it nearly worked, too, containing Brazil enough to force a 1-1 draw and penalties, even though in this World Cup containing Brazil is relative, given how toothless they have often appeared, Neymar aside. Indeed, they came astonishingly close to winning, with Mauricio Pinilla smacking a shot against the bar in the closing stages of extra-time, and, of course, there are few closer ways to win a football game than on penalties.

Chile were, of course, hampered by injuries, not least to Arturo Vidal, arguably the best player in the world in his position, who thanks to a knee injury could not perform to anything close to his usual standards. Indeed, he couldn't complete 90 minutes in any of Chile's four games, being substituted in three and not risked at all in their final group game against the Netherlands. Had a Vidal at the height of his powers been available to Sampaoli, it could have all been very different.

Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Interestingly, it wasn't Chile's theoretical weak point that did for them in the end. A defence of Gary Medel, Francisco Silva and Gonazlo Jara, two midfielders who were relegated last season and a full-back who was recently released by Nottingham Forest, should not have been sufficient to hold off many attacks at the World Cup, but they coped relatively well with Spain, the Netherlands and for the large part Brazil.

It was their major Achilles' heel, specifically defending from set pieces, that saw them concede in the second-round game but overall the back line performed above expectations.

Sampaoli was proud of his men after the game, as quoted by Sky Sports:

We wanted to win the game before going to penalties. I don't know if Brazil will win this World Cup.

I don't believe in moral victories. They don't count. We were on par with these teams. Football is like this.

I told them to fight, be brave and defy history. Looking ahead, we have to keep going on that path.

We had players who risked their health for the national team. I can't ask more of them and am proud of our team.

And rightly so. They are out, but Chile have contributed a huge amount to the most exciting World Cup in a generation.