Every day when Chile's players walk onto their WC practice field, the torn and muddied Chilean flag flying nearby serves as a reminder of just how much their country needs something to cheer for.
The flag, ripped in the middle and covered in dirt, was pulled from the wreckage left behind by the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in February, killing more than 500 people and leaving 200,000 homeless. It was held up by Bruno Sandoval, captured in an iconic Associated Press photograph, after he retrieved it from a flooded area in coastal Pelluhue — a moment that Chilean president Sebastian Pinera later hailed as “lifting the spirit of a country”.
Now, the flag is serving the same purpose in South Africa.
“It's in our minds what happened with the catastrophe,” Chile captain and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said. “They brought the flag for that reason to remind us what happened in Chile, and that the whole nation is watching what we are doing.”
The flag has been hoisted outside the team's training base at the Ingwenyama complex near Nelspruit, providing an emotional spark. “I always go by there after the training sessions, and for me it shows the suffering of our country during the earthquake and the tsunami,” defender Waldo Ponce said. “It's an extra motivation to go onto the pitch and make sure that our work gives a little joy after what happened.”
The decision to bring the flag here has resonated back home, where efforts are still being made to rebuild regions.
“In symbolic terms, it shows a super strong power, now that this flag in some ways shows how we've got back on our feet again,” said Joan Bas, a Santiago-based sociologist who has been gathering citizen input to rebuild Constitucion, whose coastal downtown was swept away by the tsunami.
Pedro Poblete lost his liquor store in the central town of Talca in the earthquake, and said watching Chile play at the World Cup helps him “forget that I'm homeless.”