Like pretty much every South American women’s team not named Brazil, Chile have forever struggled for attention and support from their country. While men’s soccer dominates the minds of fans, Chile’s women hadn’t qualified for a single Olympics or World Cup before this year. How could they hope to when they were scarcely even active? From October 2014 until May 2017, Chile didn’t play a single match.
Since then, however, there’s been a bit of a power shift, starting when the men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. After that setback, Chile hosted the 2018 Copa América Femenina, and in that tournament, with the home fans behind them, the Chilean women made their best run ever, placing second behind perennial winners Brazil. The crowds that came to those games, especially by the end, were legitimately inspiring, and with their runner-up finish, Chile earned not just a trip to France, but also a chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympics through a future playoff.
With the team hitting unprecedented heights, Chile will come to France looking to give their country some international soccer to cheer for—and that’s really all the goal can be, because Chile won’t make it very far. While they could have a shot at an upset win over Thailand, in a group that’ll be controlled by the U.S. and Sweden, Chile are there to get beat up on, and they haven’t shown anything yet to prove that assumption wrong. In nine exhibition games so far this year, mostly against World Cup-level competition, Chile have six losses and three draws, including a pair of defeats to 53rd-ranked Jamaica. Even just a third-place finish in their group would be cause for massive celebration.
Goalkeepers: Christiane Endler (Paris Saint-Germain), Natalia Campos (Universidad Católica), Ryann Torrero (Unattached)
Defense: Rocío Soto (Zaragoza), Carla Guerrero (Rayo Vallecano), Su Helen Galaz (Zaragoza), Camila Sáez (Rayo Vallecano), Javiera Toro (Santiago Morning), Valentina Díaz (Colo-Colo), Fernanda Pinilla (Córdoba)
Midfield: Francisca Lara (Sevilla), Claudia Soto (Santos), Karen Araya (Sevilla), Yessenia López (Colo-Colo), Daniela Pardo (Santiago Morning), Elisa Durán (Colo-Colo)
Forwards: Yanara Aedo (Valencia), Yessenia Huenteo (Cáceres), María José Rojas (Slavia Praha), María José Urrutia (3B da Amazônia), Javiera Grez (Universidad de Chile), Daniela Zamora (Curicó Unido), Rosario Balmaceda (Colo-Colo)
Las Roja Femenina (The Women’s Red)
No surprise for such a scrappy underdog: It’s the goalkeeper. Christiane Endler plays for PSG and handled the Champions League games in a platoon situation this season as her team made a quarterfinals run. Endler was one of the first Chileans to make the move to Europe—something many of her teammates followed after their Copa América success. As the captain in net, she remains the player with the most big-game experience and the most pressure.
Endler will be under siege when Chile play the U.S. and Sweden, and her team will need an utterly spectacular performance if they’re going to steal any points. For a taste of how unbearable the burden could be on Endler in Group F, Chile played a pair of games against the U.S. last year where she made 17 total saves. Chile still lost that series by a combined score of 7-0.
Letelier likes the idea of playing aggressively and keeping plenty of possession, but as recent results have shown, Chile can be easy to push around when facing foes from outside their home continent. (They lost 7-0 to the Netherlands back in April, for example.) A winning (or at least drawing) strategy for the World Cup would require figuring out how to play practical, conservative defense without completely abandoning their attacking ambition. That means they need set piece success, for one. But also, Karen Araya, the Sevilla midfielder who’ll likely play in the middle of the pitch, will be required to work constantly to both help the defense and kickstart the offense, while her partner in midfield, long-range shooting specialist Francisca Lara, might have to make some magic happen from far out.
If you’re feeling charitable, you could say that the very difficult schedule Chile have played in the lead-up to this tournament means they could be prepared to kill some giants. But if you’re looking for tangible evidence that they can hang, it’s not there. They’ll have to show something new if they’re going to make a mark.
June 11, 12 p.m.: Chile vs. Sweden at Roazhon Park
June 15, 12 p.m.: United States vs. Chile at Parc des Princes
June 20, 3 p.m.: Thailand vs. Chile at Roazhon Park
All times Eastern