Scaling the mountain of possibility: World Cup Preview - Chile
Over the past few years Chile have developed into one of the most exciting and dynamic international sides in the world. They have become the neutral’s favourite with their high intensity pressing and possession based game with exciting, technical players like Alexis Sanchez coming to the fore.
Many are tipping them to go a long way in the tournament so let’s see how they stack up:
Chile’s qualification campaign was anything but plain sailing. A tough start characterised by four defeats in a row to Ecuador, Argentina, Colombia and Peru saw Claudio Borghi lose his job with Chile looking like the biggest name to miss out. Then Universidad de Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli was appointed and he guided the Chileans into the automatic qualifying places with five victories in the final seven qualifying matches. Chile were the entertainers of the qualifying section as only Argentina scored more than them but they were defensively shaky with only Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay conceding more and Venezuela – who didn’t even qualify – conceded fewer. Yet, the entertainers managed to make it to Brazil in third place in the group.
Having initially named a 30 man squad, Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli recently narrowed it down to 27 players before Fiorentina midfielder Matias Fernandez pulled out through injury. Influential midfielder Arturo Vidal is an injury doubt but remains in the squad with Chile keen to give him every chance to get fit while there is some fresh faces in the squad with Paulo Garces, Miiko Albornoz and Pablo Hernandez the only players with a single digit number of caps. Here is the full squad:
Goalkeepers – Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad); Paulo Garces (O’Higgins); Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile); Christopher Toselli (Universidad Catolica)
Defenders – Miiko Albornoz (Malmo); Marcos Gonzalez (Union Espanola); Mauricio Isla (Juventus); Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest); Gary Medel (Cardiff City); Eugenio Mena (Santos); Jose Rojas (Universidad de Chile)
Midfielders – Charles Aranguiz (Internacional); Jean Beausejour (Wigan Athletic); Carlos Carmons (Atalanta); Marcelo Diaz (FC Basel); Jose Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo-Colo); Felipe Gutierrez (FC Twente); Pablo Hernandez (O’Higgins); Rodrigo Millar (Atlas); Francisco Silva (Osasuna); Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras); Arturo Vidal (Juventus)
Attackers – Fabian Orellana (Celta Vigo); Mauricio Pinilla (Cagliari); Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona); Eduardo Vargas (Valencia)
The Barcelona forward is perhaps the most well known Chilean player in the world right now and is the focal point of the Chilean attack. He is coming off a very good season with Barcelona and his pace and skills will be key for Chile going forward, getting four goals in qualifying. Sanchez also is a selfless workhorse up front for the team and will run himself into the ground closing down and hassling defenders so that Chile can get the ball back. Sanchez will be looked at to provide that something special to get Chile out of a tough Group B.
It is telling that Chile and Sampaoli are giving Juventus midfielder Vidal every chance to prove that he is 100% fit for the World Cup such is his importance to the side. Possibly the most complete midfielder in the world today, Vidal has been a revelation in Serie A and has helped Juve to three successive Serie A titles with an incredible return of goals. He was joint top scorer for Chile in qualifying alongside Eduardo Vargas with five goals but his overall contribution was much greater. He is a driving force in midfield, covering every blade of grass as well as having the quality to help out going forward. If Vidal is fully fit in Brazil, expect him to take the tournament by storm.
Medel is utilised by Chile as a centre back and has a very crucial role in the Chile side. He holds the defense together and has to marshal the back line to ensure Chile don’t get caught out. His mobility, tenacity and calmness in possession make him the perfect fit at the back for the Chile system as he is not only there to defend but also get the ball moving and play out from the back. The Cardiff man does have a tendency to pick up cards on a regular basis and will need to temper that in Brazil if Chile are to succeed.
Possible Starting XI
Chile’s flexible system – 3-4-3, 3-4-1-2 or 4-3-3 depending on the situation – means that Sampaoli has a number of different options available to him when choosing his eleven. The eleven you see will be his likely line up for the tournament itself. Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas will start up front and will have licence to drop deep and move wide in order to get involved. This opens up space through the middle for Jorge Valdivia to get on the ball and create in the number 10 role. Vidal (if he is fit) will be given the freedom to burst forward from midfield while Charles Aranguiz will not burst forward as much and will keep the ball moving in midfield. Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla in the wing back roles will be instructed to get up and down the flanks, protecting them while giving the Chilean attack width. Marcelo Diaz in the holding midfield role has an important job as he is the destroyer of attacks as well as feeding the ball to the more attack minded players. He also has to drop in and help Jose Rojas and Gary Medel to make it a back three when Chile are on the attack. Claudio Bravo keeps his role as the undisputed number 1.
Chile are one of the more exciting teams in the tournament but they have to contend with holders Spain, 2010 finalists Netherlands and Australia in Group B. Their games will be exciting but their defensive frailties mean that they are a tough one to predict. I think that Chile will finish second in their group after beating Australia and the Netherlands but losing to Spain. They will then meet Brazil in the second round where they will lose to the hosts in a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out.