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 Posted by Angus McNeice
Jun 29, 2014

Assessment: Chile a team to remember

Chile defender Gonzalo Jara smashed the final spot-kick against the post to keep alive Brazil's dreams of winning a World Cup on home soil.

Chile have exited the World Cup in heartbreaking fashion, losing to Brazil in penalties in the last 16. ESPNFC blogger Angus McNeice gives his verdict on the brighter points of the campaign as well as what went wrong.

One sentence, World Cup recap

"We came up losers ... we came up winners."

No line better describes Chile's World Cup campaign than that in "The Goals" by Pablo Neruda, a late fan of the game from the Land of Poets.

All team assessments

Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
Finalists: Argentina
Winners: Germany

Star Man

Alexis Sanchez approached world-class territory at this World Cup. His desire to win borders on maniacal, and this, coupled with his talent, makes it all the more bewildering that Barcelona is considering selling the player this summer.

This championship spirit was also present in Gary Medel and Claudio Bravo. It was a privilege to watch in their defeat to Brazil the magnificent Medel refuse to lower the intensity of his game despite playing in agony -- his thigh heavy with strapping -- before his body finally gave out on him.

When the players were equally shattered at the end of the Spain game, Bravo came to the rescue with a host of clutch saves and was as impressive against Brazil.

Highlights

Defeating defending champions Spain and claiming the biggest scalp in world football. This Chile side will always be remembered for closing the final chapter on tiki-taka and for doing so with an equally eye-catching footballing identity crafted over seven years.

Like many, I became a fan of Chilean football during the 2010 World Cup when Marcelo Bielsa's La Roja side played some of the most attractive football in South Africa. I began reporting on Chile's domestic division and the continents' international club competitions in 2012 after moving to Santiago, when Jorge Sampaoli was working his magic at Universidad de Chile.

The club had recently won the Copa Sudamericana -- Latin football's Europa League -- and was widely regarded as the best team in South America. It was only a matter of time before a bigger team would make an approach for the manager. Picture the nation's excitement when that team was "La Selección."

Chile's World Cup qualifying campaign was in disarray under Claudio Borghi and many believed they would never again witness the thrilling football of the Bielsa years. Sampaoli -- a self-professed Bielsa disciple -- not only returned that to Chile, he surpassed it with his own vision.

Many teams with equivalent profiles in the international game would consider a win over the Spain and a defeat to the host in the knockout stages as a decent World Cup, though it was the way Chile played in those games that has this nation claiming it deserved so much more.

Low Points

The last 16 fixture with Brazil was always going to end in disappointment with either the host or one of the tournament's most thrilling teams bowing out. Watching Chile fall to Brazil brought a particular kind of sadness as the side played the beautiful game in such an aesthetic fashion during this tournament.

Brazil easily disposed of Chile 3-0 in 2010, a far easier pill to swallow than a loss on penalties having definitely outplayed an opponent for large parts of the game.

Because of its dramatic timing, Mauricio Pinilla's shot against the crossbar on 120 minutes grabbed the headlines, though for me Charles Aranguiz's blocked second-half effort was the miss that hurt the most. It epitomized the Chilean game, started courtesy of a wingback, brimming with pace and positional awareness.

Compared to Brazil -- who reverted to speculative long balls after Neymar was hampered by a knock -- Chile's second-half chances oozed class. Though, to use Sampaoli's words, moral victories don't count in this game.

Lessons Learned

There was a period midway through the second half against Brazil when Chile lost its way, breaking from the high-pressing football that has defined this team and letting Brazil off the hook with several unnecessary back passes. La Roja also took its foot off the gas after racing to an early lead against Australia and let the Socceroos back in the match, and an unrecognizable Chile played a long ball game in the closing 10 minutes against the Dutch.

Aside from wavering from its game plan at times -- and failing to defend set pieces convincingly -- there were not too many negatives to take away from a team that on the balance performed exceptionally.

European clubs are likely to start circling Sampaoli, and "La Roja" fans will hope that he will see out his contract and lead the team at next year's Copa America in Chile. That competition most likely represents this golden generation's final opportunity to earn the silverware that has eluded it.

For Chileans, it has been a pleasure to follow this crop of players over the years, and to watch La Roja bring innovation, passion and courageous spirit to the world's game. Chile burned brightly, if not briefly, and with broken hearts these wonderful players return to a nation bursting with pride for them.

Angus McNeice

Angus McNeice is deputy editor and chief sports writer at The Santiago Times, headquartered in the Chilean capital. He covers domestic and international club soccer in South America and has reported closely on the Chilean national team's road to Brazil 2014. You can follow him on Twitter at @GusMcNeice.