Group B matchday: Australia v Chile

Australia kick off their 2014 World cup campaign with a match against Chile at Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba, on Saturday from 8am (AEST). 

Expectations are at a crossroads, as the Socceroos are not expected to reach the spectacular heights of 2006 and, in a group that features 2010 finalists Spain and Holland, some consider the Socceroos to be on a hiding to nothing.

Chile on the other hand led by Jorge Sampaoli - a coach who paces nervously up and down the touchline and has continued the good work of previous coach Marcelo Bielsa - have high hopes to go deep into the final stages of the tournament.

Sampaoli, like Bielsa, is insistent on a high intensity game with and without the ball. In addition there is a genuine tactical flexibility that few teams possess.  Chile play up to three different formations depending the opponent and players available.

How they will lineup and why

Against the Socceroos I’m tipping Chile to ditch the much favored back three and opt for a back four due to the Socceroos playing Tim Cahill as the lone forward.

To play a back three against the one striker does not match up as well as it often leads to an additional player remaining in the back line, and this affects Sampaoli’s overall philosophy of having additional numbers around the ball carrier, or in high areas of the ground.

By switching to a back four Chile only need two players, those being the central pairing of Gary Medel & Gonzalo Jara to defend against Tim Cahill, hence providing a more balanced structure and further numbers higher up the ground.

It still does not solve all their problems, however, and I expect Chile to defend as high and far away up the pitch as possible. Both central defenders are small in stature and any opportunities the Socceroos have to move the ball into the front third and provide crossing opportunities will cause angst.

As for the Socceroos, Ange Postecoglou has continued to refine his 1-4-2-3-1 over the past month. Against Croatia the defensive organisation improved significantly and the key within this structure is the two terriers we posses in the middle of the park - Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak.

Their ability to disturb the many vertical passes Chile like to play through Marcelo Diaz, - as well as win the second ball and play forward to any of our front upon transition - will play a pivotal role in the outcome.

As always Australia has continued to produce top class goalkeepers and in Mat Ryan we can be assured he will cope with the pressure and at times come to our rescue.

I expect Australia to play a possession game, albeit, one that does not rely on the full space afforded but rather confined to tighter spaces. This means, the moment possession is turned over, the Socceroos can regroup much quicker to either place immediate pressure on the ball or get back into the defensive block that we saw against Croatia.

Strength v Weakness

One particular strength of Chile’s lies in the combination on the right side between Mauricio Isla and Alexis Sanchez. The duo spent years refining their understanding while at Udinese and it forms a very important part of how Chile attack. 

Isla can be devastating going forward supplying countless quality balls into the box. Expect him to play as high as the last line of the Socceroos when Chile are in possession, with Sanchez drifting inside to create space for Isla. Sanchez poses a real directness in the final third and, if given time to face forward on his first touch, will have no hesitancy in running directly at the Socceroos defence.

On the flipside and for the best part of this four-year cycle the Socceroos have tried a host of players to find a long-term left fullback. More stability has been found since Postecoglou’s reign. The Socceroos mentor has stuck with Jason Davidson who plies his trade in the Dutch Eredivisie and, in the long-term, he seems to be a very good option.

But with only seven caps to his name and a tendency to lose concentration in critical stages, as noted in the goal conceded against Croatia, the thought of him coming up against this experienced duo sits uncomfortably. A baptism of fire awaits. The result of the match could come down to this specific match-up.

Prediction

The first 15 minutes will be critical. The Socceroos must avoid going behind early and be given time to settle and find some rhythm. The longer this continues will bode well for the Australians. The Chileans know this is the game they must win if they want to progress and that frustration will see them become more open to the counter-attack.

On the proviso Arturo Vidal does not play I’m going to be brave and say we can pinch a 1-1 draw!