By Andrew Cawthorne
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, June 28 (Reuters) - Chile came agonisingly close to rewriting World Cup history by nearly defeating Brazil but should take heart from a marvellous performance against the hosts, their coach Jorge Sampaoli said on Saturday.
At 1-1 in the last minute of extra time, Chile striker Mauricio Pinilla could have won the game but shot against the crossbar. A goal then would have reversed three previous World Cup defeats to Brazil in Chile's history at the tournament.
But it was not to be and Brazil won 3-2 on penalties at the Mineirao stadium to advance to the quarter-finals, leaving Chile's players disconsolate on the floor as celebrations erupted around them.
"Well that near goal right at the end has been really hard for us. We so nearly won, it was harsh," said Sampaoli, still looking in shock at a news conference minutes after the game.
"If we had scored then, we would have made history for ever. It would have been the 'Mineirazo'," he said, in reference to Brazil's shock 1950 defeat to Uruguay known as the 'Maracanazo' at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Victory over Brazil would have been all the sweeter for Sampaoli given his nationality, Argentine, and the rivalry between those two South American heavyweights.
"I'm very proud of my players. I'm proud for Chile. Everyone was against us in the stadium, but we have given everything, we fought hard. The players have represented our country in a beautiful, wonderful way," he said.
"Our team nearly won today, but moral victories don't count in situations like this."
Sampaoli said his players could not have given more, praising them for neutralizing Neymar and singling out midfielder Arturo Vidal for playing though not fully fit.
"They had lots of ball possession, they risked injuries. Even in the second half of extra time, they kept fighting and running. If we had scored that last chance, the afternoon would have been much better," he said.
"Today we're sad and hurt but after some time we will be able to appreciate the value of this performance."
Sampaoli said his team prepared properly in case of penalties but had fully expected to win. "Penalties are something you always train for but when you are on the field, it's always different, it's more luck than anything else.
"We have been able to give Brazil a fright. We have shown we are on a level with these great teams. We're on a par. I think Brazil will feel better and more confident after today."
Midfielder Vidal was distraught at the end. "We fought for a dream. We left our lives on the pitch," he said. (Editing by Neil Maidment)