Chile, the champion no one cared about

Chile successfully defended the Copa America title they won in 2015 but news of Lionel Messi’s retirement eclipsed their achievement.

It is often said that history is written by those who win. In Chile’s case, however, that has proven to be a little bit less true… or at least a little less important.

With the exception of the 17.62 million people who live in Chile, no one else has given much thought to Chile winning Copa America Centenario, successfully defending the title they won the year before against Argentina (again!).

That’s not particularly Chile’s fault or their players’, who were in amazing form throughout the tournament. It was more due to the shocking news that hit the soccer world soon after they lifted the trophy: Argentina’s Lionel Messi announced his retirement from international play.

Unfortunately for the Chileans, when a figure as influential as Messi makes that kind of announcement, everything else stops taking priority. And while it can be seen as unfair, the reaction from the soccer community to focus on Messi’s announcement is nothing short of natural.

Still, that doesn’t mean that credit should be taken away from a Chilean squad that is now a dynasty. They came into the tournament led by the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal. Both stars put together strong performances, yet they weren’t alone. The rise of Eduardo Vargas was as notable, if not more so, than Alexis’ turns and flicks. It was Vargas’ eye for goal that shone brightest as Chile demolished Mexico in what turned out to be a shocking 7-0 quarterfinal win. The 26-year-old scored four of those seven and finished as the leading goal-scorer of the tournament with six goals, beating Messi by one tally.

Like Vargas, other Chileans took Copa America by storm, including Edson Puch, who scored a double against Mexico and was also instrumental in the semifinal win against Colombia, where Chile played without suspended Vidal.

The crop of fearsome attacking players that grace Chile nowadays were comfortably supported in defense by Claudio Bravo, who was arguably the best goalkeeper of the tournament (the only other goalie who can compare is Colombia’s David Ospina). It was Bravo who kept the game scoreless against Argentina with a timely and difficult save from a Sergio Aguero header. He would later save the penalty that handed the title to his country for the second consecutive year.

Still, while their achievements were great, somehow they always ended up behind the main story. Whether it was Mexico losing by seven goals or Messi announcing his retirement, little praise went the Chileans’ way. A clear example of it is the photo from the final that went viral on social media. In it, a lonesome Messi stands surrounded by nine Chileans. By most accounts, the photo was a representation of how Messi had to do everything by himself. Still, another more accurate take is this: Chile knows how to press and defend in numbers.

By successfully defending their title, Chile has proven to be the best team in the Americas. If they end up playing against the Euro 2016 champion in the coming months, they might just prove they’re the best team in the world.