Football Fever Alive and Kicking in Santiago

The excitement and enthusiasm is understandable. Not since 1998 had Chile played in a World Cup and not since 1962, when Santiago played Yugoslavia in the 3rd place playoff match in Santiago, had the team won a match in the biggest tournament in the world.

Photo by Kendal Montgomery
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

There has been much controversy over the manic and incessant sound of the vuvuzelas inside the South African stadiums, but they are no more than a faint squeak compared to the blaring of horns all over Santiago during Chile’s win last week against Honduras. Despite the game not kicking-off until 7.30am, a healthy crowd began gathering as early as 6.30am at Plaza de la Constitución and they were clearly in the mood to make up for lost time.

Photo by Kendal Montgomery
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

Any sight of their heroes on the specially erected big screen outside the Palacio de la Moneda drew huge cheers and there was even a roar for President Piñera as he was shown taking his seat in earthquake-torn Dichato. When the flags weren't being used for warmth, they were flying proudly in the chill, morning air as drivers also added to the celebratory mood with an endless parping of car horns.

There was a lovely contrast between La Roja's fans in Nelspruit, resplendent in their bright red shirts basking in the sunshine, and the fans in the Plaza, wrapped up against the cold, waiting for the light to come. Home comforts were easily forsaken for the chance to take part in such a glorious, shared experience and the players didn't let them down.

It was an energetic and exuberant start to the tournament for La Roja and when the goal finally came there was delirium throughout the city. A look around the plaza revealed that the initial hardcore crowd had been augmented by hoards of people taking up every available space to get a glimpse of the main event. There were flags hanging from office windows and people leaning out to see what all the fuss is about.

The players in Nelspruit showed a similar focus and though the last few minutes were a touch nerve-jangling, La Roja held on for a deserved victory that, in truth, could have been much more convincing.

Photo by Kendal Montgomery
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

No matter—it was time to celebrate.

The chants of, 'Chi, Chi, Chi...Le, Le, Le,' echoed around the square, impromptu congas formed and red, blue and white umbrellas twirled ecstatically.

No-one seemed to have any place in particular to go and some just gathered in doorways to sing their own celebratory tune and to draw any passers-by into their happy group. Young and old, local or foreigner--all were welcome to dance a jig and fill their lungs with a lusty chant.

But such moments call for the ultimate shared experience, which in Santiago means Plaza Italia.

The masses instinctively know that this is the place to be as people streamed into the vicinity from all sides. The party spirit ratcheted up another level and if the number of young people jumping about the plaza was anything to go by, then the schools and universities must have been very quiet this day.

Traffic came to a standstill, a huge inflatable red ball was tossed excitedly around the crowd and the streets were strewn with newspaper and homemade confetti. The epicenter of the party changed by the second, as drums fired up, a fresh chant began and the crowd flocked to the next enthusiastic embrace.

This was one party that didn't want to end -- and hasn't, as La Roja claimed a 1-0 victory over Switzerland today, unleashing yet another round of celebrations throughout Chile.

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