Chile’s rise to the top scripted by Argentine coaches

  • Reuters, East Rutherford, New Jersey
  • Updated: Jun 27, 2016 13:28 IST
Chile players hoist the championship trophy after winning the 2016 Copa America Centenario. (Reuters)

Chile have never beaten Argentina in open play in 27 Copa America meetings in 100 years yet have twice in 12 months dashed the hopes of Lionel Messi’s team of lifting a major trophy.

A second successive victory on penalties in the final against their trans-Andean rivals, this time in the centenary tournament in the United States on Sunday, has cemented Chile’s status as one of the world’s top teams.

Read | Chile win Copa America on penalties, deny Messi’s Argentina again

A further irony is that the revolution that has transformed the team is the work of Argentine coaches starting with the visionary appointment in 2007 of Marcelo Bielsa, who has earned cult status in Chile.

“(Chile) have become audacious in the way they impose their game on any field, against any adversary,” Diego Latorre, who was in the Argentina squad that won the Copa America in Chile in 1991, said on Saturday.

“This was unheard of in previous Chile teams prior to the Marcelo Bielsa era,” he wrote in his column in the Argentine daily La Nacion.

Argentina, boasting one of the world’s top players in Messi and ranked number one in the world, were expected to avenge last year’s loss to Chile in Santiago having already beaten them twice this year.

Messi has now lost four major finals with Argentina, three in the last two years including the 2014 World Cup decider against Germany in Rio de Janeiro, leaving them still looking for their first major trophy since 1993.

Lionel Messi (10) reacts after missing a penalty. (Reuters)

He often looked cut off from his team at a packed Metlife in East Rutherford, New Jersey and cut a dejected figure at the end after his penalty miss and amid Chile’s victory celebrations, subsequently announcing his retirement from international football.

Read | I’ve done all I can, it hurts not to be a champion: Messi on retirement

Bielsa, who was Argentina coach from 1999 to 2004, revolutionised Chile’s training methods and tactics and led them to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after being absent from the tournament since 1998.

He and successor Jorge Sampaoli were instrumental in developing midfielder Arturo Vidal and forward Alexis Sanchez as world class players while Claudio Bravo has proved a top notch goalkeeper.

Sampaoli improved his mentor Bielsa’s work on a high pressing game, steered Chile to the round of 16 in Brazil and masterminded their first ever Copa America success at home a year ago.

Argentina had never lost a competitive match to Chile until 2008 and had beaten the team now coached by Juan Antonio Pizzi twice in the last three months -- in a World Cup qualifier in Santiago in March and their opening group game of this tournament in Santa Clara three weeks ago, both times 2-1.

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