Tasked with a difficult group but favoured by a familiar climate, Chile head to Brazil with a target of qualifying for the second round which will equal their best effort since the tournament expanded to 32 teams, having reached the last 16 in both 1998 and 2010.
In South Africa, led by the innovative Marcelo Bielsa, they progressed from Spain’s group after running the eventual winners close in Pretoria and they once again face the World and European champions in Brazil. Group B also houses the Netherlands, losing-finalists last time out and coached by Manchester United’s Louis Van Gaal, and a rather transitional Australia who boast the least experienced squad of all in this World Cup.
Under the guise of Jorge Sampaoli, a disciple of Bielsa’s high-intensity pressing style, La Roja finished a comfortable 3rd in the CONMEBOL qualifying section and went on to narrowly lose to Germany and Brazil in friendlies either side of the new-year.
But 3 wins in their last 18 matches, a run that includes a 2-2 draw with Spain in Geneva, a match Chile were unfortunate not to win, and 0-2 victory over England in which they outplayed Roy Hodgson’s men at Wembley showed that, like in 2010, they will be a dangerous proposition once again.
Sampaoli is extremely flexible with his tactics, willing to change between 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 depending on the players available to him. He does however try to build his team around the talented Palmeiras playmaker Jorge Valdivia who operates at the tip of the midfield in a 4-3-1-2, behind a fast-paced front duo of Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez.
With Australia first up in Cuiaba on June 13th before they meet the two tougher challenges in Group B, Sampaoli may be expected to use a more attacking formation in order to secure the vital three points early on. For this Maurico Pinilla of Cagliari may be used as an old-fashioned forward to take advantage of width provided by Sanchez and Vargas, or even bring in Fabian Orellana, the winger who has impressed with Celta Vigo this term, on the right with Sanchez as a false 9.
The three keywords to Sampaoli’s plans are versatility, aggressiveness and perhaps most importantly of all as he aims to relight the embers of Bielsa’s reign, enjoyment.
The Bielsa imprint is clear in Sampaoli’s team, with the Argentine keen on playing with three forwards; two wingers either side of a classic number 9, though Valdivia, a skilful and creative attacking midfielder, sees a slight shift in dynamic as he looks to move deeper between the lines. That puts greater emphasis on Sanchez and Vargas, the Valencia striker who has 13 goals from 29 caps for La Roja, to cut inside diagonally and run onto through balls slipped inside the channels between centre-half and full-back.
Sanchez’s instructions to move laterally are designed to make use of his electric pace as well as his understanding with Mauricio Isla, the now-Juventus right-back who built up a fruitful partnership with Sanchez at Udinese. While Sanchez moves inside to pin-back his marker, Isla is free to overlap on the outside to provide crosses, usually targeting the near posts as Chile are hindered by a lack of height in attack.
Wigan’s versatile Jean Beausejour can be deployed if Sampaoli wants an extra man on the flanks but it is usually a narrow, hard-running midfield 3 that is charged with hunting down the ball intently and taking control of it when they win it back. Carlos Cormona and the effervescent Arturo Vidal, the experienced duo who already share 96 caps both aged 27, both run off high-stamina and they will be given license to carry the ball forward and press in advance of Marcelo Diaz, Basel’s midfield metronome who was managed by Sampaoli at club level. Charles Aranguiz, Internacional’s 25 year old who is assured and confident on the ball, may also be expected to start alongside them.
Carmona’s station in defensive midfield will be in the absence of Cardiff’s Gary Medel, who under the alias of “The Pitbull” encapsulates the work-ethic and aggression that Sampaoli has installed into this side. The former Sevilla man will be instead at centre-half to cover a lack of strong defenders and there is a lack of obvious options to partner him.
While either Jose Rojas or Gonzalo Jara, the latter of Nottingham Forest, may be expected to partner Medel, the inclusion of Malmo’s Miiko Albornoz highlights the dearth of options at centre-back; a 23 year old with Finnish patronage who was persuaded to turn his back on his native Sweden in favour of an international career with Chile.
Santos’ reliable left-back Eugenio Mena will be tasked with providing the same energetic width Maurico Isla gives on the opposite side while in goal, the 79-cap Claudio Bravo of Real Sociedad is the undisputed number 1. The 31 year-old goalkeeper, subject of recent interest from Barcelona, is La Roja’s captain and as their most capped current player, he is their figure of seniority at the back.
Arturo Vidal | A member of Juventus’ superb midfield 3 that drove the old lady to an emphatic 3rd Serie A title in a row alongside Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo, the tenacious Vidal has developed into one of the world’s most fearsome players. Sharp in the tackle, good on the ball and able to score goals as well as keep his excellent work-rate up for 90 minutes as he bombs from box-to-box, he is arguably on the most highly-rated all-round midfielders at these finals. Has recovered from knee-surgery just in time to play in Brazil.
Alexis Sanchez | The 25 year old is coming off a prolific year for Barcelona where he became one of the bright lights in an otherwise underwhelming year for the club. The Tocopilla-born forward hit 19 goals in La Liga as well as providing another 10 from his usual position on the wing. For Chile however he plays a more central role, using his deadly pace to run onto balls played behind the opposition defence, as his double against England showed. He can also turn provider, linking up with his striking partner Eduardo Vargas to lead a comeback in a recent 3-2 friendly victory over Egypt.
Marcelo Diaz | The 27 year old is a calm, level-headed presence at the base of Sampaoli’s midfield, a product of the manager’s time at Universidad de Chile. He is an excellent reader of the game, relying on an alert positional sense to break-up play and to provide a rock-solid protection to his back four. His ability in possession, able to range passes from short to long as he dictates possession from a deep station, is also vital to Chile’s system which is highly-reliant on the ability of their full-backs to get forward.
TALENT RADAR KEY YOUNG PLAYER
Unfortunately, Chile don’t have any player that qualifies for the feature (21 and below at the start of the 2013-14 season).
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