Argentine Bielsa becomes Chile’s unlikeliest sex symbol (Update)
Marcelo Bielsa’s feats — leading Chile’s national team to the third spot in the World Cup qualifiers and just one win from a ticket to South Africa 2010 — have turned him into one of Chile’s most beloved figures. Men say he should run for president; women rank the introverted coach a sex symbol.
His popularity is backed by numbers. A poll in El Mercurio newspaper ranks Bielsa the best trainer in Chile’s soccer history, above Nelson Acosta who took the team to the second round of France 1998 and Fernando Riera who led “La Roja” to the third spot in Chile 1962.
But passion for the Argentine transcends the soccer pitch and enters the realm of the altar.
In the most recent act of fervour, a group of fans is asking the Vatican to canonise him. The site asks fans to support the effort by lighting 100,000 virtual candles for “San Marcelino.”
Bielsa, who is pictured with a halo on an altar, wearing the red jumper of the Chilean squad, even has prayers in his honour. “Blessed San Marcelino, lead your serious glare towards our fans and fill our nation with your glory,” reads one of them. It adds: “The nation you’ve chosen to change history and bring only triumphs to La Roja.”
The site asks for three miracles from “the saint”: Chile’s classification to the next World Cup, reaching round two, and winning the tournament.
The first miracle could be granted if “Saint Marcelino’s” Chile beats Colombia in Medellin on Saturday. For now fans can only pray and hope the miracle is achieved and their team can come back to a World Cup after 12 years of purgatory.
Sunday update: I guess we can say, All that and then some, after Chile clinched qualification. Here’s how we reported it:
Chile qualified for the 2010 World Cup on Saturday, beating Colombia 4-2 away to secure their place after a typically audacious move from their coach Marcelo Bielsa.
With Chile trailing 1-0, Bielsa took off his out-of-touch playmaker Matias Fernandez after 32 minutes and within four minutes of the move saw his team go 2-1 up.
Chile, whose last World Cup appearance was in 1998, have 30 points from 17 games and are guaranteed a top four finish in the South American group with one match to play. The defeat meant that Colombia, eighth with 20 points, were eliminated.
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PHOTO: Chile’s coach Marcelo Bielsa listens to a question during a news conference at Santiago August 31, 2009. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado