2014 World Cup Group B team previews: Chile
Chile’s dream of going far at the World Cup finals will hinge on how they perform against world champions Spain and the 2010 World Cup runners-up, Netherlands, in a tough group.
Some former players and analysts believe this could be the best ever Chile side, who could at least emulate the achievements of the 1962 team that reached the semi-finals when the World Cup was staged in Chile.
With the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, and a tactical discipline not often seen in the team from the far west of the continent, Chile could cause a number of surprises.
Chile finished third in the South American qualifiers, behind Argentina and Colombia, and a great spell in the final stages turned them into a respected and often feared team with Vidal, Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas all on top form.
Chile won nine of 14 games played in 2013 and lost just two: against Peru in the qualifiers in March and in a friendly against Brazil, their recurrent nightmare.
Among their victories was the excellent 2-0 win over England at Wembley with a stunning two-goal performance from Sanchez.
In this year’s preparations for the finals, Jorge Sampaoli’s team beat Costa Rica 4-0 and suffered a 1-0 defeat by Germany in a high level match in which they put Joachim Low’s team in serious danger but failed to score.
This campaign has many Chileans dreaming of going beyond the last 16, the stage where they said goodbye to the World Cup in their last two appearances in 1998 and 2010.
But Brazil could be in their path in the second round and that is not so good for Chile. The World Cup hosts crushed Chile 3-0 in the last 16 in South Africa in 2010 and have won nine of their last 10 matches against the Chileans.
Chile, who entered the top 15 in Fifa’s rankings in October 2013 and have stayed there since, have outstanding attacking skills with Sanchez and Vargas.
But Sampaoli must resolve a recurring problem: an unstable back line that shows fragility when they play against the big guns.
While goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is sure of his place, the defence sometimes shows a vulnerability that is the main aspect Sampaoli must work on if he wants to be the man to take Chile to the latter stages of the competition.
In midfield, Eugenio Mena is a regular and Juventus playmaker Vidal is a key player and a team symbol along with Sanchez.
Chile are set to play without a classic number nine and Sampaoli could use playmaker Jorge Valdivia or Mauricio Pinilla in the central striker position.
The 33-year-old Humberto “Lollipop” Suazo, a regular for Chile up front before Sampaoli’s arrival, is doubtful having only just come back for his Mexican club Monterrey from a four-month absence after a shoulder injury.
Weighing up the pros and cons, Chile just about come out on the plus column, but all that might count for nothing if they meet Brazil earlier than they would like to.
Five to watch:
Mauricio Isla, centre-back (Juventus); Age 26; 44 caps. Mainly a right back but can also play as a right winger or holding midfielder. Started as a centre midfielder under former Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa, but Sampaoli moved him to the defence and he now is irreplaceable at right back. Moved to Italy in 2007 and played for Udinese until 2012, when Juventus paid almost 10 million euros (Dh50.2m) for him. He is a regular at Juventus.
Gary Medel, midfielder (Cardiff City); Age 26; 60 caps. “The Pitbull” is one of Chile’s best known players. Born in a slum and in an interview said football prevented him from becoming a criminal. His tireless style became his trademark. A defender or central midfielder, he was Chile captain in Bravo’s absence.
Jorge Valdivia, midfielder (Palmeiras); Age 30; 52 caps. Known as “El Mago” (The Magician), the former Al Ain playmaker is a first class player whose career has been plagued with ups and downs because of injuries and a lack of discipline that kept him out of the national team twice. Last time it took him more than a year to get back. One of Sampaoli’s favourite players, the Argentine was behind his comeback to Chile.
Arturo Vidal, midfielder (Juventus); Age 27; 53 caps. “El Rey Arturo” (King Arthur) is one of the world’s best midfielders. After three years at Colo Colo, he embarked on a rising career in Europe, first with Bayer Leverkusen and now Juventus. Has defensive skills, is a good header, lays on goals and has scored eight for Chile. On home visits he usually enjoys his other passion: the racetrack. He owns more than 15 horses.
Alexis Sanchez, forward (Barcelona); Age 26; 65 caps. A fundamental part of the Chile team, his spicy dribbling is a constant danger to rival defenders. He gives Chile an enviable power of goals and explosive attack. “El Nino Maravilla” (Wonder Boy) has curbed his diving for which he was heavily criticised. Scored a double at Wembley in November and leapfrogged fellow forward Humberto Suazo into fifth place in the list of all time top-scorers for Chile with 22 goals, 15 short of Marcelo Salas. Scored one of the goals of the year for Barca in their final La Liga match of the season against Atletico Madrid.
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Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM