Martin Friel discusses the dark horses for the World Cup – Chile
Heart pounding national anthem, the group of death, a Bielsa disciple, guaranteed goals, a 50/1 shot and Rachel Riley!? If you’ve not picked a team to follow in the World Cup, look no further, Chile will not disappoint.
I jumped on the La Roja bandwagon in February 1998, when Marcelo Salas ripped England a new one at Wembley on Michael Owen’s debut. Not only was Salas unplayable that night, the Chilean’s completely dominated with an intensity that England just couldn’t cope with. Even the National anthem blew the opposition away;
“Que o la tumba seras de los libres, O el asilo contra la opersion”- ‘That you be either the tomb of the free or a refuge from oppression.’
Arguably the greatest closing line of any anthem. If I make one recommendation for this summer, tune in early for Chile’s matches so you can catch the spine-tingling performance as players and fans proudly belt out the lyrics. If you can’t wait until tonights Group opener, check below for the national anthem against Cameroon in World Cup 1998, Ivan Zamorano in particular is on top form.
We are 16 years on from 1998 but again Chile sucker punched England at Wembley. Once more it was a striking master class, this time from Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez. Both he and Juventus’ Arturo Vidal are the stars of the side, with the later appearing to win his fitness battle for the Group opener. However, Chile’s main asset is the team itself.
Manager Jorge Sampaoli has instilled a cavalier approach, bearing stark resemblance to the Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics which were a joy to watch during Chile’s 2010 World Cup Campaign. The system rarely strays from 3-4-3, with emphasis on sharp passing, quick movement and pressing the ball in the final third. Above all else, the system demands high work rate and commitment for the full 90 minutes. Sampaoli was interviewed by FourFourTwo back in July 2012, the following extract gives an insight into his mentality.
“I believe that the only way to succeed is by uniting with a love of playing. You try to inspire in them a love of the shirt derived of enjoyment, not obligation. When you succeed in this individualistic society, it is by committing to something intangible, with humility. That allows everybody to come together, the social or cultural background of the people doesn’t matter.”
Should Jorge ever decide to enter Scottish politics I’m putting a huge X next to his name! Of course many managers can talk a good game but Sampaoli has proven he is capable of getting results, evidenced by winning 5 of their last 6 qualification matches, drawing the other. They finished 3rd in qualifying with 9 wins, the same number of wins as 1st placed Argentina. The gun-ho approach naturally leaves Chile open to conceding, resulting in six defeats in the campaign and only one draw. It really is all or nothing with Sampaoli, expect goals at both ends in Brazil.
Nothing To Prove
Chile have started to cause waves with European sides in recent months. Spain will no doubt have cause for concern for their group match as they failed to conquer Sampaoli’s pressing tactics during 2-2 encounter last September. Chile travelled to Stuttgart in March to take on the Germans. Despite winning 1-0, the Germans can count themselves very fortunate. Following the match Tim Vickery observed;
“The Germans 1-0 victory does not begin to tell the story of the game. Chile, with its high defensive line and high tempo reduced the host to a state of high anxiety. They could have scored six or seven. After the match Germany coach Joachim Low said that he had never before seen his side dominated to this extent!”
How will Chile fair at the World Cup? Countdown number cruncher Rachel Riley recent announced her statistical model predicted La Roja winning the trophy – currently 50/1 with the bookies if you fancy a punt (I’m on it e/w). What Riley’s model fails to consider is the strength of Group B, with Spain, Holland and Australia completing the humdinger of the opening round of the tournament.
Chile’s chance of progression will come down to their opening match with the Aussies. This really is a must win and if Sanchez et al are able set the early pace in Group B, they might just knock out one of the big two. Personally, I don’t think the Dutch are in great shape, particularly with injuries in midfield and Van Persie’s loss of form. Whoever finishes second in the Group will most likely meet Brazil.
On paper everyone will be backing the home nation, but no doubt big Phil Scolari is weary of the threat Chile will pose. Intense pressure in the opposition third may unnerve Seleção, coupled with a frustrated home support, Chile could well provide the upset of the tournament.