- Chile, the two-time reigning Copa America champion, has failed to reach the World Cup, and changes are coming for one of the world's most entertaining teams.
They were crowned as the Golden Generation.
But now, a Chile squad that intimidated every opponent with its intoxicating pressing system, a team that pushed host Brazil to penalties in the 2014 World Cup round of 16, won the 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America Centenario and reached this year’s Confederations Cup final, will serve as a spectator for next year’s World Cup. La Roja succumbed to mighty Brazil 3-0 on Tuesday night, and as other results failed to go their way, Chile’s players did not secure a top-five spot in the unforgiving CONMEBOL qualifiers, thus ending the run of one of the most entertaining, impactful teams in the world.
After the match, Juan Antonio Pizzi basically confirmed his own future by stating he was leaving his role as head coach.
“About the future, as I said last week, my contract ends in this situation,” he told the press after the game. “It seems to me, though it’s up to the directors, we must speak and evaluate what they want for the team…of these options, I rule myself out.”
The drama continued when Carla Pardo, married to goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, expressed her own frustration on social media by claiming some members of the squad were too drunk to train.
“I know that the majority worked their a---s off, while others went out partying and didn’t even train because of how drunk they were,” she said on Instagram. "If the hat fits, then wear it and stop crying. Because now it’s an entire country that’s crying. We will wait for you here with open arms, my captain."
Another factor that won’t bode well with supporters involves a ruthless twist of irony.
After Chile’s 0-0 result with Bolivia in September, 2016 the team’s FA demanded for the result to be annulled due to Bolivia’s inclusion of ineligible Paraguayan-born defender Nelson Cabrera.
FIFA agreed with Chile and awarded La Roja a win via forfeit and all three points. As a result, however, Peru also received an extra win, as Cabrera was also involved in La Blanquirroja’s loss in La Paz.
In the end, Chile and Peru ended even with 26 points but a better goal differential moved Ricardo Gareca’s squad to fifth place and a playoff against New Zealand for a World Cup berth.
Had Chile not appealed and the initial results been counted, Chile would have taken the playoff spot and Peru would have ended in seventh.
To make matters worse, less than 24 hours after Chile’s 3-0 loss to Brazil, the U-17 squad lost its second match of the U-17 World Cup to Iraq with the same score line and virtually guaranteeing an exit from the tournament.
Some better news came later as Arturo Vidal’s retirement rumors were put to rest. The 30-year-old midfielder backtracked and followed one statement with another on social media confirming his desire to stay with the team.
“This is a team of warriors, I’m very proud to be a part of this group. And I’m not going to abandon it. We’ll go together until the end. Every time they call me, I’ll be ready for the team. Our team.”
Other players have not been as vocal when it comes staying on.
Claudio Bravo has previously hinted at retirement, and other key members such as Jean Beausejour, Gonzalo Jara and Jorge Valdivia could also contemplate an international exit.
The future of Chilean soccer is not doomed after missing a World Cup for the first time since 2006, but its future is unclear.
Something worth pointing out is that whether you’re Chilean or not, any fan of the beautiful game will miss La Roja’s golden generation in major tournaments. The death of this current squad means the end of one of the most exciting soccer teams in recent years.
During its best, recent days–the Jorge Sampaoli tenure and last year’s Copa America Centenario with Pizzi–Chile played matches the same way Mike Tyson started a fight: pressing and making the opposition feel as if it was running out of air. To Chileans, control didn’t mean possession-it meant mental and physical dominance.
If they didn’t have the ball, it didn’t matter, because they had you. But as players age, this philosophy inevitably becomes a harder task to execute.
“Five years of constant, high-intensity football without a summer break eventually started to take its toll,” said Matias Gres, a Chilean sports journalist based in London. “A perfect example was the Confederations Cup, as by the time they reached the final against Germany, the players looked very tired.”
So the No. 1 priority is to create a brand new golden generation, one that can perhaps continues the essence of the pressing game. Offensively, this won’t be an issue-Alexis Sanchez is only 28, Eduardo Vargas is 27 and despite the fact that they haven’t improved since their moves to Europe, the hope is that Nicolas Castillo and Dinamo Zagreb’s Angelo Henriquez (who began his European journey with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in 2012) will turn into stars.
But in other areas, this might be a challenge as finding jewels that can replace your Vidals, Jaras and Fuenzalidas could be a tougher mountain to climb.
“There is a real dearth of talent at youth level but realistically, the ANFP (Chile’s national soccer association) needs a complete restructure with more of a focus on youth development,” Gres says. “The most promising players coming in seem to be defenders, which is good as it’s something that Chile has lacked in recent years.”
Players such as Francisco Sierralta and Sebastian Vegas can create a solid partnership at the back, and watch out for Brayan Cortés, a talented goalkeeper who could become the next Bravo.
There is also the other issue of management. Who will take over?
The popular choice seems to be Manuel Pellegrini, but if chosen it would be interesting to see how the players adopt to his possession-friendly philosophy. Another choice could be Sevilla’s Eduardo Berizzo, who replaced his countryman Sampaoli at the club earlier this year. Sevilla is enjoying a good season in La Liga so far, with his side in second place behind Barcelona.
A third option could be the controversial return of the incomparable Marcelo Bielsa, who has been struggling in France with Lille but could be a perfect fit for Chile. Bielsa managed La Roja between 2007-2011 and helped Chile reach the World Cup in 2010 after missing out the previous two tournaments.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that Chile’s exclusion from Russia will give the national team and its federation to reflect on all of this and as recent performances showed, the players need a summer off.
The next tournament to focus on is the 2019 Copa America in Brazil. By then, the hope is surely that Chile enters with a new sense of purpose and a squad prepared to make some noise on the world stage once again.