- La Rojita are fighting to advance at Brazil 2019
- Their win over Haiti showcased their determination
- “For many years Chile were unable to win these matches”
Chile forward Gonzalo Tapia lay prostrate on the pitch midway through the first half of Chile’s must-win match against Haiti. He bore the brunt of a midair collision in the penalty area with an opposing defender, and his team’s medical staff rushed across the field to his aid.
Following examination and medical clearance, La Rojita’s No7 rose to his feet. He took a few tentative steps out of the box. Then he helped Chile seize control of the match. An assist, an own goal forced and a goal all his own – scored by a fearless header pummeled to the far post – assured that the Chileans walked away 4-2 winners from Goiania’s Estadio da Serrinha.
“The collision was early in the match, and these things happen,” Tapia told FIFA.com. “I’m just thankful I was able to shake it off, stay on the pitch and help my team succeed.”
The performance of the Universidad Catolica attacker, who idolises Luis Suarez and dreams of playing at Anfield, was emblematic of the character his team has shown at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™. After suffering a setback in their first match, a two-goal defeat at the hands of France, Chile demonstrated against Haiti the tenacity and goalscoring ability that helped qualify them for this tournament.
Tapia began on the bench against Les Bleuets but was given the starting nod against the Caribbean side by head coach Cristian Leiva. He made the most of it.
“He gave me confidence to go out there and be the player that I can be,” Tapia said of his coach. “I was able to do that and show what I’m capable of.
“This was an extremely important win. Now we are better positioned in this group and have a difficult test against Korea Republic.”
This class of Chile players excelled in the South American Championship, scoring more goals than anyone and finishing runners-up to Argentina, tied for their best result ever. Wins on the global stage, however, have eluded them. Wednesday’s triumph was only their second in 22 years at the U-17 World Cup, and their first outside of Chile; La Rojita defeated USA 4-1 as hosts in 2015 before being eliminated by Mexico in the Round of 16.
“For me, it’s the heart of my team-mates that puts us over the top,” goalkeeper Julio Fierro said. “It’s not easy to win here, on this stage. For many years Chile were unable to win matches like this outside of the country.
“Now we have a chance to enjoy a great achievement if we win in Vitoria: classifying for the knockout phase.”
La Rojita respect upcoming opponents Korea Republic, who also boast a win over the Haitians. Fierro and Chile captain Vicente Pizzaro complimented their fighting spirit, praise not bestowed lightly by a team that prides themselves on the same trait.
Still, the Chileans will not be content to share the points on Saturday, even if a draw ends up earning them a berth in the knockout phase.
“We want to win another match here,” Fierro said. “We are feeling good and training well. We do not want to leave our fate to chance.”