Torn Chilean flag rescued from earthquake hoisted at World Cup to inspire team

By Mark Walsh, AP
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Torn flag rescued from earthquake inspires Chile

NELSPRUIT, South Africa — Every day when Chile’s players walk onto their World Cup practice field, the torn and muddied Chilean flag flying nearby serves as a reminder of just how much their country needs something to cheer for.

The flag, ripped in the middle and covered in dirt, was pulled from the wreckage left behind by the earthquake and tsunami that hit the South American country in February, killing more than 500 people and leaving 200,000 homeless. It was held up by Bruno Sandoval, captured in an iconic Associated Press photograph, after he retrieved it from a flooded area in coastal Pelluhue — a moment that Chilean president Sebastian Pinera later hailed as “lifting the spirit of a country.”

Now, the flag is serving the same purpose in South Africa.

“It’s in our minds what happened with the catastrophe,” Chile captain and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo said. “They brought the flag for that reason to remind us what happened in Chile, and that the whole nation is watching what we are doing.”

The flag has been hoisted outside the team’s training base at the Ingwenyama complex near Nelspruit, providing an emotional spark for the players.

“I always go by there after the training sessions, and for me it shows the suffering of our country during the earthquake and the tsunami,” defender Waldo Ponce said. “It’s an extra motivation to go onto the pitch and make sure that our work gives a little joy after what happened.”

The decision to bring the flag to the World Cup has resonated back home, where massive efforts are still being made to rebuild regions that were destroyed by the quake.

“In symbolic terms, it shows a super strong power, now that this flag in some ways shows how we’ve got back on our feet again,” said Joan Bas, a 28-year-old Santiago-based sociologist who has been gathering citizen input for the plan to rebuild Constitucion, whose coastal downtown was swept away by the tsunami.

“It has to do with being Chilean, characterized by this force, this muscular strength, this battering ram that the Chilean spirit has, and that you can see in the team’s results. In some way Chile has this character … and we see the flag representing our ability to keep advancing.”

Pedro Poblete lost his liquor store in the central town of Talca in the earthquake, and said watching Chile play at the World Cup helps him “forget that I’m homeless.”

“That flag was a symbol that identifies all the people affected by the earthquake,” Poblete said. “The fact that it’s in South Africa representing us is like a part of us was there. We have suffered, we have bled, and we continue to bleed. To see the flag and the players soothes our pain.”

Chile has won both its games so far, but still needs at least a point against Spain on Friday in its last Group H match to guarantee a spot in the round of 16. It can advance even with a loss, as long as Switzerland doesn’t beat Honduras and Chile ends up with a better goal difference.

Chile has never beaten Spain and has managed only one draw in seven meetings. The last time the sides met in 2008, the newly crowned European champion Spain won 3-0.

Chile has been lauded for its attacking style of football so far in the tournament, although the team has struggled to score in 1-0 wins over Honduras and Switzerland. Even though Spain is renowned as one of the best attacking teams in the world, Bravo said his team isn’t likely to change it’s style to play for a draw.

“It would be illogical to train one way and play another,” Bravo said. “We’re preparing to play the same way we have been doing and we are not going to change just because one result might get us through.”

Bravo will be looking for a third straight clean sheet — which would guarantee that the Chilean flag keeps flying in South Africa for at least one more game.

“It’s a very important issue for us, and we take it as a big motivation that has helped us a lot,” Bravo said.

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