Monday, June 15, 2015
I slept in base layers and a jumper so I can face the teeth-jangling cold of my 6am alarm call and 6.45 bus to La Serena. From here it's the long return bus journey to Santiago which seems considerably shorter with majestic coastal scenery for much of the way.
Back in Santiago, I am meeting up with my Swiss mate, Hannes, and three of his mates from home who have all come out for the Copa America, ticketless. I give Hannes a 'man hug' and he's got a cold beer ready for me in the front garden of our new hostel.
It's great to have the excellent company and after a chilled early afternoon of beers and banter, we head off to the subway for the trip to the national stadium.
The ATMs are mostly out of cash which isn't exactly helping the lads' attempts to procure tickets for tonight's match between Chile and Mexico.
At Nuble metro station the 15-minute walk up to the stadium rates as one of the best before any match i have ever been to: every man and his dog is selling merchandise, food, drinks and God knows what else: portable ovens set up with pizza slices, supermarket trolleys full of beer, giant whistles in Chilean national colours, steak sandwiches, Alexis Sanchez towels, underpants and face masks ... I've never seen anything quite like it. Two fingers stuck up proudly in the air to FIFA by the locals.
We cruise up the avenue with tins of Cristal beer, laughing and joking with the locals...there is even a banana and chocolate fondue fountain!!! Brilliant. The one thing there is an obvious absence of, however, is tickets to the upcoming match. I am OK, but my four friends have thus far only met one punter offering those sought after pieces of paper and he wants an absurdly high $200 a pop.
90 minutes before kick off, I leave the boys to it so i can pick up my ticket, arranging to meet them after in Bella Vista.
In the stadium I am sat next to two affable journalists from Argentina and Mexico. Before kick off we predict a dull 1-0 game. How wrong we are!
Mexico might have come into this tournament with a 'B team' but they have decided to play with three players pushing high against Chile's back three and holding midfielder. They deserve their lead through Vuoso who slots home the opener. The hugely impressive Vidal hits back for Chile within a minute with a fantastic header. And it is game on.
Jimenez makes it 2-1 to the visitors with a looping header on 29 minutes, before Vargas also gets in on the act just before half time to make it 2-2, sending most of the 45,000 crowd wild. There could and should be more goals before half time and most of us are gutted when the ref blows the whistle for half time.
Vidal makes it 3-2 to the hosts with another Chilean penalty but the excellent Vuoso isn't finished as he sprints away from the Chilean defence to slip the ball past the oncoming Bravo to make it 3-3 on 66 minutes, to the obvious delight of his larger-than-life manager Miguel Herrera.
Chile also have two well-worked goals disallowed for offside and play some champagne football in the final third as this dramatic game draws to a climax; Mexico still threatening to break and score a fourth themselves.
At the final whistle I am on my feet giving a standing ovation to the two teams for one of the most entertaining games of international football I have attended in years. The home fans can hardly muster up a clap though. For them this simply isn't good enough. If only England played football like Chile. A performance like this would be considered fantastic in London and Manchester. The performances of Vuoso, Jimene, Vidal and Vargas were outstanding. Even the old school 70s style football of Valdivia was a joy at times.
Back in Bella Vista, I track down the lads. I am happy to announce they all managed to get into the stadium and for about $70 each. We all celebrate a brilliant day and match with Jagermeister shots and plenty of banter. Viva la Copa America!