In My Opinion

David J. Neal: Miami Chileans win big with pride, politeness

 
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dneal@MiamiHerald.com

The first thing I have to say about watching Wednesday’s game at Sabores Chilenos, a Chilean restaurant tucked away in the glutes of a strip mall at Flagler Street and 107th Avenue: in 25 years of living here, I’ve never been in a place that crowded that was that polite.

To me. To each other. Patrons. Waitresses. Owners Marcel and Ingrid Encina. Before, during and after Chile retiring Spain as the World’s Best Team with a 2-0 upset. When a family of four left at halftime, instead of a musical chairs rush to claim the spot, a trio of men in their 30s triple checked with the waitress before even bending a knee to sit. At the Chilean anthem, they didn’t just stay respectfully quiet — they stood and sang with stirring pride.

Then, they roared, “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Viva Chile!” About 20 minutes earlier, a jaunty Marcel Encina unofficially began the pregame buildup by blasting an air horn and leading that same chant.

You couldn’t have found a bigger contrast to the Chile fans who buffalo’ed their way into the Maracana via the media center.

The restaurant’s 18 years old and one of the relatively few Chilean restaurants in Miami. While immigrants from other South American nations can seem ubiquitous in Miami, South Florida’s Chilean community can get overshadowed.

“There’s not that many Chileans in Miami,” said Chilean-born Miami resident Alejandra Matamala. “The ones that are here don’t have a great network. This restaurant is starting to build that. They have a big party for Fiestas Dieciocho, our Independence Day. Every year, it gets bigger and bigger. But there’s no great infrastructure here in Miami, but it’s the strongest I’ve seen in the United States. I come from DC and Virginia and, there, it’s even less.

“There’s just not many of us in the States.”

No. 2 thing I noticed: polite, but with a bit of swagger.

Matamala told me after the U.S. and Brazil, my two favorite teams, get KO’ed, I could join the Chile bandwagon.

“We’ve got a lot of heart!” Matamala said. “This is the best team we’ve had in many World Cups.”

Partially because Chile jumped on Spain early, producing a stellar scoring chance in the first two minutes, fear never rippled the smooth sureness in the house. No expectation that the piano of Spain’s greatness would appear crashing down onto Chile. This, the owning of the champs, was the expected.

Arriving very early, as advised by the woman who answered the phone when I called the restaurant Tuesday, I found several tables occupied for the other Group A game of the day, Australia-Netherlands. When the heavily-favored Dutch tied the game in the second half then went ahead, grumbles and groans rose from the tables.

The United States wants Germany fat and happy with two wins and a huge goal differential before they play the U.S. in the final group game. Then, we hope, they’ll take a laissez-faire approach against a desperate American side that might still need a point or three to make the knockout round.

Chileans, on the other hand, don’t buy their ranking as Group A underdogs to the Netherlands and Spain. They’re thinking “win the group” on the way to winning the whole shebang. So, they rooted for the Aussies to tie or beat the Dutch.

Late in Chile’s win, the restaurant rang with songs of goodbye to Spain, which won’t make the knockout round after dominating international play for six years. The finish brought the usual music and dancing, but nothing over the top.

They clearly expected to do this five more times over the next few weeks.

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