“CHI-LE-LE-LE! VIVA CHILE!”
A handful of Chileans are making themselves heard as Chile battled it out with New Zealand in the afternoon sun of Rourkela in its first-ever World Cup game. The history-makers are being cheered on by the small group dressed in their country’s colours, while waving their flags.
“My name is Ren Strabucchi. I am an architect. I am the father of one of the players,” one of the fans identifies himself. “We are all parents of the players,” he says, pointing out to the rest of the group.
Ren is the father of Nils, the 23-year-old forward of the national team. He is joined by his eldest son, Nils’ girlfriend, the parents of captain Fernando and his brother Felipe Renz, and the family of Jose Hurtado.
They made their trip here after a gruelling 24-hour journey from home via London, Delhi and Ranchi by air and road travel. “We came by car. It’s really dangerous” chuckles Ren, explaining how they reached Rourkela from Ranchi. “In Chile, it’s a very small country and here the intensity is very strong. The intensity of life, people, animals… in Chile everything is much smaller.”
Hockey is not the biggest sport in Chile, but it’s gained popularity in recent years. The national team is made up of semi-professionals with players also doubling up as account managers, students, bankers and doing business.
“Hockey is usually a girl’s sport than boys. The girls are more famous than the boys but its slowly growing popular,” says Ren.
At the Birsa Munda Stadium, despite the team trailing 3-0 in the second half, the players’ families are attracting attention too. Locals are queuing up to take selfies with them and some even join in on their ‘Ole’ chants.
Chile fights back in the last two quarters and comes close to scoring several times. Their wait for a goal comes to an end in the 50th minute when Ignacio Contardo slots his finish into the net. The families jump up in unison and embrace each other being in the midst of the nation’s historic first.
Back down on the turf, at the full-time whistle, the Chilean players are given a rousing ovation from what is now a near-full-capacity venue.
For goal-scorer Contardo, who quit his job as a banker after Chile ensured World Cup qualification to focus on his hockey, this is the stuff of dreams.
“It’s an amazing sensation. With a lot of people watching, to score… I am dreaming. I hope to wake up, I don’t know… later,” says the 28-year-old forward.
The players and their families do not have the biggest expectations of progressing beyond the group stage, which also involves the Netherlands and Malaysia. But for the next week, whatever comes their way at the World Cup will certainly be something that they could never have dreamt of.