LA ROJA NUNCA LO OLVIDARÁ

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18 de Mayo de 1994. Marcelo Salas hace su debut en la Selección de Chile. Acababa de culminar la que fue, en cuanto a números, la mejor temporada de su carrera: 42 goles en 49 partidos, siendo la figura en el título de Universidad de Chile tras 25 años. La convocatoria era inminente. Argentina, con Diego Maradona entre sus filas, era el rival en aquel amistoso. La Albiceleste se preparaba para el Mundial de Estados Unidos, no así la Roja. «El Matador» ingresó en el segundo tiempo, y como no podía ser de otra manera, se estrenó con un gol.

Al año siguiente, Chile obtuvo la «Copa Canadá», ante el país anfitrión e Irlanda del Norte. Salas marcó el gol que le dio a su Selección aquel trofeo amistoso. Era la previa a la Copa América 1995, a la que el conjunto chileno llegaría debilitado: Iván Zamorano, Pichichi de la Liga Española 1994/94, optó por tomarse un descanso en lugar de acudir a la cita continental con su país. Así las cosas, Salas debutó junto a Ivo Basay en el ataque ante Estados Unidos, pero fue reemplazado en el entretiempo por Sebastián Rozental, autor del gol en la derrota chilena por 1-2. En la fecha siguiente, Argentina vapuleó a la Roja por 4-0 y el delantero de Universidad de Chile ingresó en el segundo tiempo. Esos fueron sus últimos minutos en aquella Copa, ya que no jugó en el 2-2 vs Bolivia.

Las cosas cambiarían el rumbo con el inicio de las Eliminatorias 1996, ya con el gran Zamorano enfocado de lleno en su país. «Bam Bam» abrió la cuenta en el debut como local vs Ecuador. Salas también marcaría el suyo, además de asistir a Zamorano para su doblete. Era el comienzo de la dupla Sa-Za, la mejor que se ha visto en la historia del fútbol chileno. «El Matador» se ubicaba con gran criterio en la zona izquierda del ataque. Desde ahí desequilibraba a su marca a pura aceleración y potencia, o bien llegaba al área para definir las jugadas. Zamorano se ubicaba más en el área, como centrodelantero luchando vs los centrales rivales. Salas liquidó a Uruguay con un gran cabezazo, repitió la fórmula en Quito para el 1-1 vs Ecuador, y apabulló a la Selección Colombiana que integraban Mondragón, Bermúdez, Valderrama, Asprilla, con un hat-trick. Aquella noche fue triunfo 4-1, pero la dupla Sa-Za invirtió roles. Zamorano, volcado hacia la derecha, asistió en dos ocasiones a Salas, que entró como centrodelantero. Fue una victoria clave en las aspiraciones por llegar a Francia 1998, y ante un rival que dos años antes, le había propinado una paliza, también 4-1. El gran momento del Matador continuó con un gol a Argentina, país donde ya lo conocían, otro hat-trick a Perú y un gol a Bolivia. Con sólo 24 años, ya era frecuente capitán de su país.

La clasificación al Mundial llegó tras 23 goles de la dupla (12 Zamorano, 11 Salas). Ambos fueron los dos máximos goleadores en las Eliminatorias. Como si fuera poco semejante nivel, en un amistoso previo a la Copa del Mundo, Chile venció por 2-0 a Inglaterra en el mismísimo Wembley, con un doblete de Salas.

El Mundial de 1998 dejó a Chile eliminado en Octavos de Final, ante quien sería el subcampeón, Brasil. La actuación de Salas fue fantástica: 4 goles en 4 partidos. Dos goles ante Italia (2-2), uno ante Austria (1-1), y el del honor ante Brasil (1-4). Tras semejante actuación, el fútbol argentino no pudo disfrutarlo más: «El Matador» mudó sus goles a Italia, donde también haría historia.

El próximo reto con La Roja fue la Copa América 1999, donde el equipo llegó hasta semifinales y quedó eliminado en penales por Uruguay. Sin embargo, Salas sólo jugó 3 de los 5 partidos y no marcó goles. Los goles del ex River en su Selección reaparecerían ante Paraguay y Brasil, ya en las Eliminatorias rumbo a Corea y Japón 2002. En aquel año 2000, parecía que «El Matador» integraría la lista de jugadores que competirían en los Juegos Olímpicos de Sidney, sin embargo, a último momento, el entrenador se inclinó por Zamorano para ocupar el cupo de mayores a 23 años. «Bam Bam» no falló, fue el goleador (6) de aquel certamen y Chile obtuvo la medalla de Bronce. Fue lo último al máximo nivel que realizó el ex Real Madrid con su Selección, y Chile lo sintió: la dupla Sa-Za marcó sólo 8 goles en las Eliminatorias, y la Roja ocupó el último lugar en la tabla.

Luego, en 2003, Salas sufrió la grave lesión que arruinó su estadía en Juventus. Estuvo 2 años y medio sin vestir la camiseta de la Selección. Reapareció recién en 2004, cuando ya había pegado la vuelta a River Plate. Sin embargo, su forma física no era ni por asomo la de los años de plenitud. Apenas jugó 7 partidos y marcó 1 gol para otras Eliminatorias sin clasificación a Mundial: Chile vio Alemania 2006 por televisión. Con más nombre que presente, Salas, ya en su primer amor, jugó 4 partidos camino a Sudáfrica 2010, con Marcelo Bielsa como entrenador. Marcó un doblete en el Estadio Centenario (2-2 vs Uruguay) para llegar a 37 goles en 70 presencias con la Selección: el máximo artillero en la historia de su país, y el único que se dio el lujo de marcar en 4 eliminatorias diferentes (Francia 1998, Corea-Japón 2002, Alemania 2006 y Sudáfrica 2010). Debido a las recurrentes lesiones, su retiro era inminente. Salas dejó lugar a una camada de grandes jugadores: Mauricio Pinilla, Humberto Suazo, Eduardo Vargas y quien es gran candidato a arrebatarle el trono de máximo goleador chileno, Alexis Sánchez.

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1994. Si no rueda una pelota me siento incompleto. Cuando sea grande diré que vi jugar a Messi. Disfruto de leer y escribir.

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