It’s taken a while, but we’ve finally reached the last installment in The Equaliser’s guide to the 32 teams participating in this summer’s World Cup. The final entry in the series focuses on Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile.
South Africa 2010 will be the eighth World Cup Chile has taken part in, an impressive record for a country with a population of little over 17 million. Although they will be without the stars that have fired them to past successes this time around, the likes of Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas, the current Chilean side, led by their disciplinarian Argentinean coach, Marcelo Bielsa, is young, talented, motivated and ready to spring a few surprises over the course of the next few weeks.
Very impressive in qualification, Chile finished second to Brazil in the CONMEBOL section, defeating Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia as they recovered from a slow start to conclude the campaign as South America’s form side. Playing a 3-3-1-3 formation unique amongst the teams that will be playing at the World Cup, Bielsa’s side have developed their own attractive brand of football which has served them well after a process of fine-tuning and development since the Argentinian’s appointment in 2007.
A defence comprised of three centre-halves holds a relatively deep line behind a midfield three – likely to be comprised of Arturo Vidal, Rodrigo Millar and Jean Beausejour – which gives the trio of defenders extra protection and is cautious not to get caught to far up field, something which would disjoint a delicately balanced system. Matias Fernandez represents the “1” in the 3-3-1-3, using his abilities as a playmaker to link the midfield to the attack, and, when necessary, drops further back to give the midfield the security provided by extra manpower. Up front the team’s top goalscorer, Humberto Suazo (providing he recovers from a hamstring injury and avoids any potential punishment following suspicions of doping surrounding his treatment), is flanked by two quick and tricky wingers, Alexis Sanchez and Mark Gonzalez. Udinese’s Sanchez, just 21, is one of world football’s rising stars and will be pivotal to his teams fortunes in South Africa, while Gonzalez has overcome the difficulties he faced at Liverpool several years ago and is enjoying something of a renaissance both with his club, CSKA Moscow, and the national side.
With a manager who has a clearly-defined tactical plan and a squad filled with technically excellent – if perhaps little-know – players, Chile are many people’s dark horses to exceed expectations and make a real splash in South Africa. One possible stumbling block is that, should they finish second in Group H to Spain as is very possible, they will likely face Brazil in the second round. However, this is a team brimming with confidence and with more than enough quality to match the world’s best on their day. Keep an eye on Chile, they’re out to ruffle a few feathers at the World Cup and, if they hit form, could drastically change the face of the tournament.
Probable starting XI: Bravo (Real Sociedad); Ponce (Universidad Católica), Medel (Boca Juniors), Jara (West Bromwich Albion); Vidal (Bayer Leverkussen), Millar (Colo-Colo), Beausejour (America); Fernandez (Sporting Lisbon); Sanchez (Udinese), Suazo (Monterrey), Gonzalez (CSKA Moscow)
The Road to South Africa: 2nd in CONMEBOL qualification
World Ranking: 18th