A ninety-nine year climb to the top
Copa America 2015 provided a reflection of where the national psyche takes its stand with a number of individual Latin American countries. It has been a monumental marathon for the people of Chile- and all congratulations are due to them. Winning the tournament was indeed a much bigger ambition with Chileans than with Argentina or with, say Brazil. This is not to suggest that Argentina and Brazil did not put their hearts into an attempt to capture the hemispheric football crown, only they have won bigger things in the past and Chile had never captured any greater laurels.
Let's not pour cold water on the triumph by Chile. That 4-1 decider via penalty kicks following a nil-mil draw after ninety- minutes, then protracted into 30 minutes of extra time, carried a palpitating heart stop lasting all of ninety-nine years which had produced four finals for Chile but the dream of becoming champions had always ended in the nightmare of disappointment.
Actually, the persistent general feeling has been that Chile is not quite the place for staging a major sports event. That's what many thought when the World Cup of 1962 was staged there. And that feeling of resentment culminated in a newspaper report by an Italian paper in which the question was asked on the eve of the match between Chile and Italy as to why the Cup was then being staged in a place like Chile of all places?
You can imagine the result of such an insult! The match was nothing but a continuous exchange of blows between the players of both sides! Brazil won that tournament of 53 years ago- a result going down admirably with all Chileans who sincerely looked at this as far better than the plaudits going to the insolent Italy.
A country of 17 million people, Chile invested much emotional effort into this year's Copa America and showed their team to be relatively very well prepared, not ignoring their asset of taking advantage of the physical geography placing them well up at high altitude.
When it came to the recent final against Argentina the stadium at Santiago was almost 100 percent decked out in Chilean red among the more than 60,000 spectators. National fervour counts for much in these things, making the crowd no less than a strong extra player from the support angle. As for the enactment on the field of play, from the first ball it made idiots of the pre-match pundits who were bold enough to suggest the exchanges would be open, producing attractive football. No such thing! Lionel Messi of Argentina was tightly policed. In fact, the Chileans loaded their penalty box with near permanent defence. Argentina, too, dared not do otherwise. A goal against them would be disastrous.
When the penalties drama unfolded after 120 minutes of salient it was little surprise Chile emerged winners. Only Messi scored for his team. Justice was served. Chile deserved to win by virtue of retaining their composure at the critical finale.
Forgotten in the euphoria greeting the Chilean triumph was the performance by Jamaica, eliminated in the group stage. They lost 1-nil in each of their three matches and this prolongs the ever present agony of not being able to find the net on those big occasions. Caribbean teams suffer from an inferiority complex infront of goal when faced with Latin opposition.
Can't we divert our minds to the ladies? What a sensational bit of football by the United States of America, the following day Sunday 5th July in the Women's World Cup at Vancouver, Canada! Within a few minutes- before you could say Mitsubishi the U.S.A had gone up 4-nil making the process of seizing victory appear too clinically efficient- with a hattrick included as well. It stood then at 4-nil and the Japanese girls wondering what had struck them. Was it retribution for Pearl Habour? For me the best goal was the third, if I'm not mistaken, which saw the ball volleyed brilliantly with nonchalant ease. Inevitably, the Americans had brought a captive audience of over 54,000 with them across the border and inspiration was in no short supply for their belated 4th of July parade!
When all is said and done, the Women's World Cup final represented a magnificent advertisement for women's football. No longer should the women's game be relegated as of subordinate interest to the men's version of the sport. Let's admit, it had speed, strength, stamina and an abundance of skill. Above all, it was loaded with an overflow of determination- all the things going to manufacture great football as a compelling spectacle. Then, also, there were some tears shed. The same occurred with the men's final at the Copa America! Gender equality is coming.