SANTIAGO – They were called a golden generation, the Chilean squad that managed to win the Copa America two times in a row (2015 and 2016). But most key players of that prizewinning squad are now getting older and older. So which players are the new hope for Chile – who will save La Roja?
When Chile won the Copa America in 2016, beating eternal rival Argentina in the penalty series, their starting eleven contained players such as Claudio Bravo (32 at the time), Jean Beausejour (31 at the time) and José Pedro Fuenzalida (31 at the time). Now, two years later, stars such as Gary Medel, Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sánchez, Mauricio Isla and Eduardo Vargas are all around 30 years old. They will probably be present at the Copa America in 2019 in Brazil (if all fit), but after the La Roja didn’t manage to qualify for the World Cup in Russia this year, for most Chileans it´s clear: we are watching the end of a golden generation.
Chilean clubs on the international stage
Also, on club level Chilean clubs are barely present on the highest level. In the Copa Libertadores, comparable with the Champions League in Europe, Colo Colo managed to reach the quarterfinals this year, where they were completely overrun over two matches by the Brazilian Palmeiras (0-2, 2-0). Reaching the quarterfinals was already a big thing for Colo Colo and Chilean football in general, as over the last few years Chilean clubs struggled to survive the group phase. The last time a Chilean club had managed to reach into the semifinals was 2012, when Universidad de Chile lost from Boca Juniors. For a victory we have to go back to 1991, when Colo Colo won as only team in Chile so far, the Copa Libertadores.
In general, the Copa Libertadores seems to be a competition between Argentinean and Brazilian clubs – Atletico Nacional in 2016 was the only team in the last nine years to win the Copa Libertadores while being from another country (Colombia). As football nowadays is mostly about who has the most money, it is understandable Chilean football has barely any say on the international stage. In the Forbes list of ´Most Valuable Clubs in the Americas 2018´, there is no Chilean club to be found. Brazilian clubs Corinthians and Palmeiras are leading the ranks, with Mexican, Argentine and American clubs among the other clubs in the top 10. It is clear: whilst not being able to spend large sums of money, Chile will depend in the future, just as they did in the past, on their talents. So, who will be the talents that will be part of the future of La Roja?
Five talents who have the future in La Roja
Brayan Cortés (Colo Colo)
Claudio Bravo was for years the last line of defense for the Chilean national squad. The Manchester City goal keeper, currently recovering from a heavy injury, is 35 years old, is not expected to return to La Roja. Chile has pinned its hope on Brayan Cortés, a 23-year-old keeper who made his debut against Mexico (0-1 victory for Chile). The young goalie, who transferred this year from Deportes Iquique to Colo Colo, made his debut in Chilean football at 18 years old and looking at his first match for La Roja, Chile finally has its reasons to forget about Bravo.
David Salazar (O´Higgins)
David Salazar, 19 years old, appeared on The Guardian´s list of ´60 of the best young talents in world football´ in 2016. Since then, the midfielder played only a handful matches for his club in the national competition but has made his debut for the Chilean under 20 and under 17 squads. Although a debut in La Roja still seems far away, Next Generation´s Salazar could be in the future squad.
Víctor Dávila (Club Nexaca, Mexico)
Dávila is 20 years old, but already part of the national squad: his debut against Peru is his only national game so far. The attacker made his debut for the Talcahuano-based club Deportivo Huachipato, at 16 years old. His transfer last year to Club Nexaca did the youngling well, in his first year he scored seven times in 25 appearances. This season, he will probably set a new personal record, as he already scored six times in thirteen appearances.
Gabriel Suazo (Colo Colo)
21-year old Suazo has played his whole career for Colo Colo. At 17 years old the midfielder made his debut for Colo Colo, and last year he played his first match for La Roja. On his young age, Suazo has already won 5 prizes with Colo Colo´s first team and Chile hopes that in the nearby future, he will be able to add a Copa America with La Roja to that list.
Pablo Aránguiz (FC Dallas, United States)
One of the players named to take over the position of Alexis Sánchez, on the day the Niño Maravilla stops, is 21-year-old Pablo Aránguiz. Currently playing in the United States for FC Dallas, the striker went abroad after having played four seasons for Union Española. Although he hasn´t played for Chile´s national squad yet, and wasn´t part of the under 20 squad that went to the Sudamericano -20 2017 in Ecuador, Aránguiz is playing now in a notably better competition and who knows how he develops himself there.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.