It took an Argentine, Jorge Sampaoli, to plot Chile’s triumph in the Copa America final against his own country.
Lionel Messi and Argentina’s other “Fantasticos” lost their nerve in Santiago’s Estadio Nacional as they sought their first major international title for 22 years.
Chile’s coach Sampaoli stayed true to his live wire reputation, jumping up and down on the touchline urging stars Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to attack so they could win their first South American championship.
“We had to play a great game against one of the world’s best teams for the quality of players. We should have won in 90 minutes, but ended up getting justice in a shootout,” Sampaoli told a press conference after Saturday’s win in Sangtiago.
Since taking over, Sampaoli, 55, has transformed Chile’s national side into true global competitors. As well as Saturday’s South American title, Chile also reached the last 16 at last year’s World Cup and were unlucky not to go further.
But when he arrived in December 2012, Chile had lost three World Cup qualifiers in a row and despite the presence of stars such as Sanchez seemed like a disorganized rabble.
“From the first game, Chile were playing to win the Copa America,” Sampaoili said.
“The team confronted and overcame rivals to win the Copa America through leadership, hard work and discipline. That is the merit of the players that I have fortune to train,” added the coach after the 4-1 penalty shootout victory.
Sampaoli said that Chile are capable of even better.
“People are now starting to dream. We have done something great today and qualifying for the (2018) World Cup will be Chile’s next target,” he said.
Though born near Argentina’s second city of Rosida, Sampaoli made his name mainly as a coach of teams in Peru and Ecuador.
But after his own footballing career was cut short at 19 by a double leg fracture, Sampaoli cemented his reputation imposing an attacking style that he learned from his hero Marcelo Bielsa, another Argentine who once coached Chile.
Sampaoli has an all-Argentine staff helping him with the Chilean players. But despite reports indicating he would like to take over his own country’s team, Sampaoli insists he will stay with Chile at least for the 2018 World Cup in Russia — as long as they qualify.
“My duty is linked to the fate of this country and these players,” Sampaoli said before the Copa final.
“I don’t have Chilean nationality, but I am excited by the chance to make Chile champions,” he went on.
“The coaching staff are all Argentine, but we all want Chile to be champions.”