SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean fans grieved their team’s World Cup exit after a crushing defeat against Brazil, but kept upbeat about the future of the young squad after their best performance at the tournament in decades.
Chile’s transformation from a splintered team with little talent just a few years ago into a disciplined, attacking unit under Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa yielded two wins and much praise at the South Africa tournament.
The team was no match for star-studded Brazil, however, who put on a show in their 3-0 victory to book a quarter-final clash against Netherlands.
“We have lost but it doesn’t matter because we will be champions in the next World Cup,” said Juan Serna, a 22-year-old student wearing the team’s bright red jersey. “We have the players to win the next cup.”
Far from the rowdy scenes that greeted the team’s group victories over Switzerland and Honduras and their loss to Spain that secured passage to the second round, dejected fans headed home early from pubs and public squares.
Fans, hundreds of whom had huddled in hopes of a miracle win against five-times champions Brazil, said their young team had helped lift the spirits of a nation still reeling from a massive earthquake in February that killed over 500 people and wiped out coastal villages in the country’s south.
“I want to thank each and everyone of our players ... let’s never forget that Chile is set for great victories in the future, so let’s cheer up because better times are coming,” Chile President Sebastian Pinera told reporters after the match.
The streets of the capital Santiago remained mostly quiet during a religious holiday on Monday, in contrast to earlier celebrations that saw police make mass arrests.
While no major incidents were recorded after the match, some 40 people were detained during the day for public disorder, police said.
The team’s best World Cup showing in nearly 50 years has prompted some towns to propose naming streets and plazas after players like captain Claudio Bravo.
“I’m a little sad because we have lost, but happy for what the team has done,” said Carla Pulgar, 24, who had her face painted with Chile’s red and blue colors.
“Our happiness may be over, but we are going to go forward stronger than before because of the way the World Cup united us.”
Reporting by Molly Rosbach; Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Ian Ransom