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World Cup 2014 Expert Interview: Chile’s hard pressing, Sampaoli’s influence and more

As part of our World Cup coverage, we have interviewed journalists, correspondents, experts & writers representing each of the 32 countries to give you, the readers, a better understanding of the 32 nations participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Here are the list of interviewees.

Chile World Cup Interview

For this interview, focusing on Chile, we spoke to Joel Sked. He’s a Chilean football expert and founder of website, Lone Star Chile. Follow him on twitter @sked21 and his website @LoneStarChile

In a tough group as this one, will the fact that Chile are the only South American team have an over-bearing advantage, considering the weather conditions and playing surface? How much of a part does that play in Jorge Sampaoli’s system?

The vast majority of Chile’s players play in Europe so are in a similar situation to the other three teams. However, three of the expected starters do play in Brazil so should be most familiar with the climate. When it comes to Chile, high-intensity pressing is a prominent buzzword so when they play in heat it will have an affect but it is unlikely to see Sampaoli change or even lessen his demands. Compared to Marcelo Bielsa, Sampaoli will look for his players to hold onto the ball for a bit longer so Marcelo Díaz becomes even more important in the deep midfield role as he controls the team’s tempo.

Spain look like favourites to win the group, but they have been suspect to high pressing in recent times. Chile themselves are quite proficient with pressing off the ball. Could this be Chile’s chance to shock the world and beat Spain to make the next round? How much of a part does pressing play in Chile’s approach?

The last two meetings between Chile and Spain have arguably been the World Champion’s most testing encounters, albeit they were friendlies. Spain, so used to facing teams who stay compact and defend deep before hitting on the counter-attack, were confronted face to face; even in the second of the friendlies, where they needed a late equaliser, they seemed surprised by Chile’s approach.

We have seen Barcelona lose a certain intensity to their game, while both Madrid sides have competed in the Champions League final. It has been a long and arduous season for the three sides who supply a number of the Spain players. Not to mention theses players playing summer after summer. Chile’s players are now all at the training camp and have been for a long time and will undertake a conditioned programme to have them in the best shape possible to not only play their frantic, up-and-at-em style but also avoid injuries in the short time period between games.

Due to the way they play, the risks they take, their bravery in and out of possession I believe Chile are more likely to top the group than the Netherlands and they know that they will have to to avoid Brazil. This incessant pressing is arguably the key facet to Chile’s game and they may well be the only team to play at such a high-intensity. An important factor for the team is that when they their intensity drops, their standards don’t.

Arturo Vidal is certainly among the best box-to-box midfielders in World football at the moment. His injury and possible lack of fitness will certainly effect Chiles gameplan. How much of a loss will the Juventus man be? Who could possibly be a replacement for his role?

People may find this a surprise but it wasn’t long ago that Arturo Vidal was being criticised for his performances for La Roja and even his attitude with back-to-back red cards as the pressure mounted on Claudio Borghi. There was even suggestions that he’d pass on playing for the national side if Borghi was sacked. But that seemed to be scaremongering and in the last 18 months El Rey has been a much more influential part of the team, scoring four goals in nine games – all four were in qualifying – living up to his nickname.

If there was a prototype Sampaoli midfielder it would be Vidal: all-action, tireless, technical, direct. With the ball an important aspect of La Roja’s attacking is verticality. Without a number 9, Valdivia will play as a number 10/false 9 behind two wide forwards. Vidal will have the responsibility to make runs into space beyond Valdivia. He also offers an aerial threat with an exceptional spring despite being relatively small. If Valdivia picks up a knock and Sampaoli still wants to play with a false nine then don’t be surprised to see Vidal fill that role.

If he is going to miss a game it will only be the opener against Australia. A few names have been mentioned in replacing him, such as Rodrigo Millar or Felipe Gutiérrez. There is a player very akin to Vidal in Charles Aránguiz who shares similar attributes to Vidal. As a prospective starter Prince Charles may be moved forward.

Chile’s game in attack, their general tactical philosophy will certainly make them interesting, but there seems to be a comparative weakness in the defensive third. What is Sampaoli’s system in that zone and what needs to be done to ensure they don’t leak goals as they did in qualifying with only three teams worse off (all of whom didn’t qualify)?

In fairness to Jorge Sampaoli there has been only one match where La Roja have looked susceptible defensively under his management: Chile’s 3-3 draw with Colombia. Chile were 3-0 up at half-time before Carlos Carmona was sent off with 24 minutes left and they surrendered their lead. Ironically, the worst defensive performance came when La Roja attempted to play deeper and protect their lead. Afterwards Sampaoli said that it proved Chile don’t have the players to defend the box.

His options in defence are such that he has been playing Gonzalo Jara and Gary Medel as centre backs but his philosophy is similar to that of Bielsa: have one more player in defence than your opponents have in attack. Sampaoli is likely to go with a back four and I use that term loosely; Mauricio Isla and Eugenio Mena will play very high as full backs with Díaz dropping into the back line at times.

Sampaoli knows that too much pressure on his defence will make it crack so they will press harder and higher, trying to play the game in the opposition’s half which means risks will be taken. But that is what this Chile are all about. The main concern is set pieces. Alongside Japan and Costa Rica, Chile have, on average, the shortest side at 1.77m So even though he has not had much game time in club football Marcos González is likely to start to add height. In the recent friendly with Germany Per Mertesacker was being marked by Arturo Vidal, which tells you what the situation is like.

Chile weren’t looking as impressive until Jorge Sampaoli took over. They now seem like possible dark-horses. What impact, mentally, has the head coach had on the side?

Not long after Sampaoli took over and was able to work with the key players the reaction was very positive from the likes of Claudio Bravo, the team captain, who, like so many, likened Sampaoli to Bielsa. Under Bielsa they had qualified for their first World Cup since 1998 but almost as important was the identity which El Loco installed – a way of playing, a vision. That vision had been lost under Borghi. Although relatively well liked he wasn’t as intense as his successor and predecessor. His laissez-faire attitude was witnessed both on and off the pitch with players getting more freedom which came back to bite him. Then there was his naivety of going to Argentina and playing with two number 9s and two number 10s – unsurprisingly the team were defeated 4-1.

The return to the philosophy they know and trust has been crucial with five wins and a draw coming from their last six qualifying matches. Sampaoli has also talent he time to travel to Europe and speak to his players, telling them what he wants and involving them in the World Cup process.

2014 FIFA World Cup Group B

We at Outside of the Boot track the progress of youngsters under our Talent Radar feature. Chile’s side doesn’t consist of any player who qualifies for the feature. Thus, do you think the likes of Angelo Henriquez & Bryan Rabello should possibly have got a look in?

It is hard to argue the case for any youngster over any of the players currently in the squad. It shows the quality available to Sampaoli playing in Europe, Brazil and performing well domestically. While there is no doubt that there is an abundance of young talent coming through they just haven’t proved that they are good enough for the step up to the national side as of yet.

Nicolás Castillo, Bryan Rabello and Ángelo Henríquez have all got moves to Europe, yet none have had the type of season which would convince Sampaoli that he had to take them. Castillo was becoming a disruptive influence at Universidad Católica, but if he stayed and helped UC challenge Colo Colo for the 2013/2014 Clausura he could have played his way into Sampaoli’s thoughts as a potential number 9.

Based on recent performances, Chile are capable of pulling of a few upsets. How far do you see them going? What would be considered a success for the side?

The draw has really hurt them. Not only having to compete with Spain and the Netherlands in the group but Brazil are almost certain opponents in the second round if they manage to get through as Group B runners-up. There is no question they possess the quality to reach the latter stages but they will have to hit the ground running and put in exceptional performances before they have been able to get any momentum going.

Success would be making it out of the group. With the talent pool available – Bravo, Medel, Vidal, Sánchez, Valdivia, Vargas – this is their big shot to make a name for themselves. It is crucial getting three points against Australia. They have proven they can stand up against the best and they will have to do so. Winning the group would be a monumental achievement which could act as the springboard to even greater success.

Read all our World Cup Interviews here, and all other WC2014 related content here.

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