It’s clear, the last 24 hours of South America’s final World Cup qualifiers the world witnessed there is no sport in the planet that can rival the emotions captured by the beautiful game in 90 minutes. Five matches, all played at the same time, live. It didn’t matter where you were or what time it was you have had to be able to say one day, “I watched that, and i will never, for a long time, be able to feel what I felt after watching that game.”
This is my account of the final day of World Cup qualifying
This day was an odd one for me as my beloved Chile were in a secure, yet a dubious position going into La Roja’s final World Cup qualifying match verses Brazil in Sao Paolo. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men were third with a draw or a win securing direct or qualification via playoff, their place in Russia next year. It made it no easier as other results needed to be taken into account also.
My alarm went off at 09:00am (AEST) and I knew, from the little sleep I had gotten the night before, it was time to wake up because today was the day we get to our [Chile] third consecutive World Cup however the manner. Was I wrong to be confident? No. This team over the past three years has made me cry in happiness and in pride. They have taken us to the highest of heights in such a short term that this qualifying campaign (yes has not been perfect) was going to end on a high.
The jersey was on, showtime.
Brazil have never been an easy opponent for Chile as history tells us. However, gone were the days of humiliating score lines and memes as today’s seleccion are fearless to whoever stands on the other side of the pitch. The lineup did not scare me, the pressure did, the tension inside my apartment could have been cut with a knife as my two sisters and I took our places on the couches and it was phones off, kick off.
Pass after pass, tackle after tackle, everything was calculated as both teams showed to start with their foot off the pedal. I knew, the team knew that with a draw, scoreless or not, La Roja would be through and that showed. Minutes ticked by, alerts began to appear on my locked screen, Whatsapp group messages flooded through and i knew, deep down this would not be enough.
Football is terrible in that sense as nothing, absolutely nothing goes to script. Ecuador found the net early against Argentina, then minutes later Lionel Messi found an equaliser.
Brazil scored through a Dani Alves free kick that Claudio Bravo failed to parry away as Paulinho capitalised on the spills inside the six-yard box.
That sinking feeling. 1-0 down away, and needing to score. My mind was going crazy as I immediately slouched into my couch, grabbed my phone and opened tweets that were updating the standings, qualified teams as it stood and goal difference. That did not help at all.
It was clear Arturo Vidal’s absense was felt on the pitch. He is irreplaceable and in a match like this he was the man to make the difference as Chile failed to press, failed to go forward with fluidity and to most of all, intimidate.
The half-time whistle blew, time to get up and stretch. I knew it wasn’t over just yet as i told my sisters, “nervy half, but second half they’ll settle, there’s so much at stake of course they’d play cagey!.” This team of players have been known since their time spent with Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli that when the odds are against them they show the world up. A lesson that was passed down to the fans as some Chileans are known to judge the players quickly and give up when things get hard. No. This was not the time. This was not the time to leave the stadium. We support this national team until the end.
Second half began with the first substitute of the night; Charles Aránguiz: A warrior who turned around a diagnosed three week injury to play 45 minutes in this do-or-die match. A risk, a huge risk to play and to defy the reccomendations made by his club side and German giants, Bayern Leverkusen. It’s putting the team first in these circumstances that define this group of Chilean players. Gracias Charles.
Second half went on and again Chile failed to find their groove with no penetrating attacks the world has gotten used to and less and less of that relentless pressure off the ball.
ALERT: Live score: Argentina score via a Messi goal
ALERT: Live score: Perú score via a Paolo Guerrero free-kick. 1-1
Angst. Nerves. Restlessness.
Goal difference. My old friend we are once again reunited (Manchester City title win)
Still 1-0 down and if Chile equalised, that one goal would have made the difference in booking their flight to Russia 2018. However, it was not meant to be as Chile were left opened at the back, Neymar found space down the left flank, into the box, passed it across to Gabriel Jesus who’s touch took it passed Bravo and slotted it into an open net, 2-0.
Empty. Shock. Sudden realisation.
“It’s over,” I said. One can in that moment, for the first time become a pessimist can’t they? Overturn a two goal deficit in Sao Paolo? An impossible fete deemed true.
Alexis Sanchez tried his best with moments and space granted to him, Eduardo Vargas with little supply too, Jorge Valdivia’s experience missed the mark as the damage had been done. The glorious achievements of past Copa America triumphs were now being remembered as past times and so too the players as the time of the ‘Golden Generation’ was running out.
Into stoppage time with the final corner in Chile’s favour. Claudio Bravo dashed into the box, jumped for a couple headers in the box but as the ball was cleared Willian took it away and speared a 30 meter pass to Jesus to dribble into an open net again and put the icing on the cake. 3-0.
Crushed. Teary eyed.
I switched over to Peru-Colombia as they were in the 88th minute with stoppage time to play. I was hoping for a miracle as the fourth official displayed three minutes of added time. As I hoped and hoped for a Colombia attack there was nothing. Colombia declined to press Peru as Los Blanquirojos passed it back countless times across the back four.
Final whistle. Chile our of Russia 2018.
I turned the television off. My twin sister went to our room, my older sister to hers. There I was sitting alone on the couch wearing my signed Arturo Vidal jersey. Tears bordered my eyes though I didn’t let them fall yet. I waited until i walked into the bathroom, knelt down and cried. I could not fathom my Chile, La Roja de todos, out of the World Cup. It was true. I dried my eyes, sat back on the couch but the tears continued. I couldn’t help it.