Chile 2015 is part of 90min’s 20 Greatest Teams of the Decade series.
The seeds of success for Chile’s 2015 side were sown well before 2015, but sprouted at the most magical of times when they played host to South America’s historic competition.
From the meticulous gardening work of Marcelo Bielsa’s, to the maniacal Jorge Sampoali and Claudio Borghi in between, what La Roja produced on home soil was a story for the generations.
A side bursting with life, playing with joy and fierce competitiveness, Chile secured their first-ever Copa America title that year with one of the greatest sides the decade has seen.
Bielsa set the tone for what was to come during his reign in charge of the nation, using a backbone of stars that would prove pivotal in the country’s later success. Known for his all-out, attacking and full throttle approach to playing, the team began to receive some plaudits.
His replacement Borghi opted for a different method. Adopting a more defensive-minded style that abandoned the high-energy pressing that was utilised under his predecessor, his stint at the helm ended with whimper, as six straight losses drew the curtain on an uninspiring tenure.
That saw Sampoali take the reins. Injecting his own methods in the side, what was clearly evident was the foundations set in place by Bielsa were being returned. The spine of the side so heavily relied, trusted by and effective under El Loco, returned to the fold.
Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, Gonzalo Jara in defence, midfield virtuoso Artuto Vidal, playmakers Valdívia and Fernández as well as forwards Alexis Sánchez and Humberto Suazo would play a starring role in the greatest year in Chilean football history.
Hosting the tournament, there were fears the added pressure could stunt Sampoali’s side, who had just seen the year before Brazil crumble on home soil on the World Cup stage.
Furthermore, some poor results in the build up to the tournament risked derailing the fine work the Argentine tactician had put in place, while off-field controversies were also in risk of tarnishing the country’s hosting of the tournament. Vidal had crashed his Ferrari while under the influence of alcohol, which coughed up an unsavoury backdrop to what was supposed to be a momentous occasion.
Pitted against Bolivia, Mexico and Ecuador in the group stages, it was the latter who were the opponents for the competition’s curtain raiser. Offering a resilient defensive structure with pace on the break, the normally free-flowing Chileans took their time to settle into the occasion.
It took until the 66th minute for the hosts to break the deadlock, as Vidal’s penalty settled countless nerves in the stadium. Eduardo Vargas sealed the tie late on, as the signs began to emerge that Chile were starting to rise to the moment.
With issues away from the pitch still surrounding the squad at this point, a second-string Mexico were up next. Twice coming from behind, the explosive attacking style that Chile had become synonymous with was coupled with uncharacteristic defensive flaws as the sides played out an entertaining 3-3 draw.
Vidal, despite his ongoing controversies, grabbed a brace but saw his side surrender the lead they had fought back to claim, making the final group game a must-win.
Having petered on the border of their free-flowing and swashbuckling style, Bolivia were put to the sword on matchday three with effortless precision. A five goal trouncing was on the cards with Sampaoli’s side rediscovering their magic touch, providing a stern warning for the other sides in the competition that Chile meant business.
Uruguay were up next in the quarter-finals, keeping La Roja at bay with an organised, deep-lying defensive setup. Gonzalo Jara’s unethical examination of Edinson Cavani’s nether region prompted the Uruguayan striker to be sent off, handing the home side an advantage – regardless of how uncalled for and unfair the referee’s decision proved to be.
What it did show was that this Chile side were desperate to win by whatever means, the grit and dedication they showed towards the cause coming to the fore…in some ways.
The man advantage eventually told, with Mauricio Isla’s 81st minute winner sparking scenes of utter jubilation after working tirelessly to break down their rigid and resolute opponents.
Peru came calling in the semi-finals, with the entire nation of Chile now firmly believing that this would be their year. The footballing gods shined down on them once more, with Carlos Zambrano being sent for an early shower after just 21 minutes.
Chile assumed their position on the front foot, the only way with which they knew how to play, grabbing the opener through Vargas.
Peru struck back to level matters, but the striker yet again salvaged his team’s hopes with a thunderous dipping effort that flew into the corner of the net. A moment of pure inspiration, from a player transformed in his side’s national colours.
For the first time in nearly 30 years, Chile were in the Copa America final.
Argentina were the only obstacle standing in their way. Under the guidance of an Argentinian manager, whose side’s style was forged under the guidance of another countryman of his, Chile were prepared to write history.
The hosts started as they meant to go on, swarming and harassing their opponents at any given opportunity. Always playing on the front foot and pressing high from the off, they were certainly up for the fight. Remember, this was an Argentina side who just lost the World Cup final one year prior.
Just as Bielsa had done before him, hours upon hours of studying how to eliminate Lionel Messi from the game was conducted by Sampaoli and his team. And it worked, for 120 minutes.
Neither side could find a goal for all their endeavour, despite Chile attacking for almost the entire game.
Penalties were coming. The hopes of a nation resting on five spot kicks. Except, there weren’t going to be five. They didn’t need them.
Fernandez set the tone with the opening penalty, absolutely leathering his effort into the top corner with otherworldly power. Messi did his part, before Vidal just did his.
Gonzalo Higuain then ballooned his effort way over the bar to hand Chile the initiative. Charles Aránguiz made no mistake after, before Ever Banega was denied by Claudio Bravo.
With one kick to end years of agony, Sanchez’s mere stroke of the ball to send Sergio Romero the wrong way was, in many ways, antithetical to Chile’s style. With a light caress, the Copa America trophy had itself a new champion, but in a way that totally differed from the side’s hard-hitting, full force style.
However, the manner mattered little. Their outstandingly distinctive way of playing was rewarded, and this Chile side will live long in history for reaping the rewards of a golden generation.
Man Utd 2010/11: How the Brilliance of Sir Alex Ferguson Sealed a Record Breaking 19th League Title
Atletico Madrid 2013/14: The La Liga Title Which Never Should Have Been – and the Great ‘What If’
Lyon Féminin 2016/17: Retaining La Triplé & Turning Existing Dominance Into History
Ajax 2018/19: Erik ten Hag’s Underdogs Who Took the Champions League by Storm
Germany 2014: The World Cup-Winning Squad That Took 14 Years to Build
Bayern Munich 2012/13: The Robbery in Europe Where Domination Was a Criminal Understatement
Leicester City 2015/16: The 5000/1 Underdogs Who Won Against All Odds & All Logic
Dortmund 2011/2012: The Double Winning BVB Side Who Were the Coolest Football Team in the World
Spain 2010: When Tiki-Taka Prevailed on the Greatest Stage of Them All