The dark horse ready to emerge from Bielsa’s shadow writes Jamie Currie.
They finished third in South American qualifying behind Argentina and Colombia, with a goal difference of just positive four, netting the second-highest amount of goals with 29 in 16 matches. They reached the second round four years ago in South Africa. That was under the mercurial Marcelo Bielsa, where they lost handsomely 3-0 to this year’s hosts Brazil.
Current coach Jorge Sampaoli will be the man who is the conductor of this explosive Chilean orchestra. Sampaoli is carrying the Bielsa legacy and style forward into their opening match against rank outsiders Australia. On the official line-up graphic, it will show them adopting a 3-4-1-2 system – it’s incredibly adaptable, and could easily change to 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 at any point in the match.
Perhaps that tactical flexibility will work in their favour, keeping their opponents second-guessing. That coupled with their high pressing and ferocious pace in attack will ensure they will be one of the neutrals’ favourite sides. All through their squad, they have that Latin flair, and that little nasty streak and know-how from their defence and older heads in the side. Add the fact that they will not be so far from home may prove to be another advantage, as they prepare to try to make inroads into one of the toughest groups in the tournament.
As they look to progress, they will certainly be following the mantra ‘the best form of defence is attack’ in their group games. Group B will be a massive test of their substance – particularly, their defence which will be marshalled by Cardiff City’s Gary Medel, who is primarily a ball-winning midfielder. It certainly is a clear indication of where the side’s priorities lie. Australia should be a team they beat comfortably, and get off to a good start. The two European giants Spain and Holland follow. It would not be surprising to many if they not only managed to qualify for the second round but also winning the three group games in doing so, topping the group in the process.
Arturo Vidal will be instrumental in any success that the side achieve. The Juve man is coming off the back of another outstanding season in Serie A. He epitomises the philosophy to the last detail. The high energy and non-stop work rate are only a few of the qualities he brings to this exciting side. Along with the ability to chip in with his share of goals and be equally comfortable playing on both sides of the ball. This is invaluable to ensure the transitions from middle to front are as fast and effective as possible.
The explosiveness will happen in the final third. On-loan Valencia speedster Eduardo Vargas will partner Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez. They both have that one key attribute that worries defences: lightning-quick pace. They will be joined in that triangle by Palmeiras’ right-footed nonchalant playmaker Jorge Valdivia, who will be the one who is tasked with knitting all the fast, attacking play together with putting his foot on the ball and playing the killer pass to unlock defences.
This side are seen by many as dark horses in the month-long football extravaganza ahead. They may only be in the tournament for the group stages, but when they take the field, there is no doubt they will be one of the most watchable teams of the 32 that are in attendance.
The players who made it to South Africa four years ago under Bielsa will be champing at the bit to go one better than the second round exit from last time out. Even though the shadow of Marcelo Bielsa looms large over this set-up, Sampaoli and his men will endeavour to ensure it’s their names that are on the lips of football people and firmly put Bielsa in the background.
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