It seemed as though there were 22 Chileans on the field to Argentina’s 11 during last night’s World Cup qualifier played in Santiago.
The Chileans were on top of the Argentines from the beginning, interrupting their passes and taking their marks. The home crowd was a sea of red t-shirts urging Chile to end the decades-long losing streak against its neighbour and rival, and the players looked as hungry as could be. The only hope for Argentina was that playing such an intense game would wear the Chileans out half way in.
The Argentine team looked like a bunch of superstar players that had gotten together for a friendly reunion. It was hard to detect any strategy. Messi barely got a chance to perform his usual dart-and-shoot goalmaking magic. Riquelme’s presence (denied due to a yellow card during the weekend’s messy but ultimately victorious game against Uruguay) was sorely missed, with Messi acting as playmaker and Agüero stuffing up the scarce opportunities to score. Some players were unusually useless – Cambiasso took the prize there – but on the whole, hopeless and pathetic. They didn’t even look like they were trying.
The win was delicious for Chile – rivalry with their neighbour is always vigorous, and they haven’t beaten Argentina in 35 years. Also, Chile failed to qualify for the last two World Cup tournaments, and this puts them closer to competing in South Africa in 2010.
“Chile was the superior team, there are no excuses,” said Coco Basile, Argentina’s coach. “They beat us well – they beat us in every corner of the field… They were just a running machine. It was impressive.”
One minor salve for Argentina’s hurt pride may be that Chile’s coach, Marcelo Bielsa, comes from the other side of the Andes. But the fans and the sports writers here are inconsolable. They’ve been disappointed with their team’s lacklustre performances of late. Even in winning matches against others in the South American pool, the selection has lacked sparkle, seemingly devoid of a common sense of purpose. The sports columns are wondering whether the team is suffering from one of the national illnesses – excessive individualism. It does seem sometimes, watching them, that they’re a bunch of stars without a constellation.
Beauty prize for the match goes to Matías Fernandez of Chile, who did a great job on the field while adorning the scene with his delightful curls.