Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Rise and Fall of Chilean Football in International Competitions

Juan Pablo Aravena in Editorial 27 Apr 2017

Colo Colo Copa Libertadores

Colo Colo lost against Botafogo in the pre-Libertadores round – 24Horas

The Chilean Primera Division is not living their best moment right now.

Yes, the Chilean National Team has been pretty successful during the decade. But that success hasn’t translated to the league yet. In fact, it only takes a minute to analyse the squads, and we can see they are not very strong. There are some decent players, sure. But Chile sits behind Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and even Uruguay when it comes to the overall strength of their domestic competition. That is not good, and the overall results at the international stage confirm it.

First, let’s start analysing which teams have been successful over the years. And we can see we have Universidad de Chile on top. They won the 2011 Copa Sudamericana, and reached the 2012 Copa Libertadores semifinals. That team featured players such as Charles Aranguiz, Eugenio Mena, Eduardo Vargas, and Marcelo Diaz. All of them currently play for the National Team on a regular basis.

We can also find Colo Colo as a team with a decent run of success a few years ago. They won four straight league titles in a row between 2006 and 2007, and also reached the 2006 Copa Sudamericana final but lost to Pachuca. If we take a look at that squad, it featured players such as Claudio Bravo, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, and Matias Fernandez. Bravo is the current Chile captain, while Alexis and Vidal are the country’s two top players. And Fernandez has been injury prone throughout his career, but has found a niche in the Serie A playing for AC Milan.

Sadly, those have been the only two successful teams in Chile over the last 15 years. And if we dig deeper, we can see they have only been successful in the Copa Sudamericana, which is the equivalent to the UEFA Europa League. Chilean teams’ performance in the Copa Libertadores has been disappointing, to say the least.

Let’s put things into perspective. The last time a Chilean side reached the quarterfinals was in 2012. This means that in the past four editions, Chilean sides have not made it out of the Round of 16. And if we want to look for a team reaching the final, we have to go all the way back to 1993. That is pretty bad, and that does not reflect what the National Team has done over the last 10 years.

What is even worse is that the trend is likely to continue. During the current Copa Libertadores run, both Deportes Iquique and Universidad Catolica would be eliminated in the first round. Even though the league has seen an increase on its talent level, all countries have done the same thing.

We have seen Atletico Nacional from Colombia winning the Copa Libertadores last year. Independiente del Valle from Ecuador reached the final in 2016, and Liga de Quito did it back in 2008. Penarol also did it in 2011. And Paraguayan side Olimpia made it in 2013. Even Peru had a representative, when Sporting Cristal made it to the final in 1997. If we put it in a different angle, only Bolivia, Chile, and Venezuela have not reached the Copa Libertadores final in the last 20 years.

There are many reasons that could explain this phenomenon. Let’s break some of them down:

  • The rule to have an U20 player for almost 1,000 minutes during the league campaign is not very good. It compromises teams that have deep squads. Moreover, it puts players in action when they might not be prepared for that.
  • The foreigners’ limit has an impact, too. Only a few years ago Chilean sides could have up to seven international players on each squad, but it has been lowered down to five. The number will drop to four in 2018, making it even more difficult to attract better talent from overseas.
  • The qualification system could be tweaked, too. Up until last year, Chilean sides could not play on both Libertadores and Sudamericana the same year. That led to smaller – and weaker – sides playing on the international stage, and thus having bad results.

The National Team will remain competitive. Chile are among the best international sides in the world, and it is not a stretch to consider them among the candidates to become a darkhorse in the 2018 World Cup. However, this generation is not going to last forever. And if Chile want to have a sustained success, they need to get better results at the CONMEBOL club competitions.

After all, having a healthy league is the only way to build a source of sustained success over the years.


Juan Pablo Aravena

A freelance writer and sports analyst with almost five years of experience in the industry before joining SoccerNews, Juan Pablo Aravena is based in Chile and currently contributes to several publications and websites including SoccerNews, 12up, and Sports From The Basement, while also working as a fantasy beat writer for RotoWire, as a database editor for EA Sports, and as a football analyst for SmartOdds and InsideFutbol. His areas of focus are Serie A, Bundesliga, Premier League, LaLiga, and Ligue 1, but he has also written about MLS and South American football in the past.



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