Group H: Chile

Qualifying ahead of Argentina bodes well for a disrupted country, says Henry Mance...

More than a decade after the peak of Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas, Chile are again being fancied for their attacking football. Only now it’s all about the coach.

Marcelo Bielsa was wanted by Colombia before qualifying began but, when they balked at his rigorous technical demands, he headed to Chile instead. Expectations were shattered: having finished 10th out of ten in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, and seventh for the 2006 edition, Chile came second this time, scoring 32 goals in the process.

Then local club Rangers launched a lawsuit against the national FA over a disputed relegation, and FIFA threatened to revoke the country’s ticket to South Africa. That brought back memories of Chile’s ban from the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, after goalkeeper Roberto ‘The Condor’ Rojas had cut himself with a razor blade to fake being hit by a flare. Rangers saw the wasps’ nest and dropped the court case, and Chile stayed in the draw.

Three months later, more problems. The February earthquake disrupted the team’s preparations, causing same-day friendlies against North Korea and Costa Rica to be cancelled. Nonetheless, Chilean fans expect to beat Switzerland and Honduras to qualify for the second round. Even Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is wary: “Bielsa has achieved, in the midst of all the frenzy, an organised team which always attacks.”

Strengths As he did with Argentina, Bielsa has made Chile into a fast team that gets its creativity from the wings and its goals from just about everywhere. Critics say it’s predictable, but the system has suited Chile’s youngsters, several of whom played a similar style in the 2007 U-20 World Cup (where Chile finished third).

WeaknessesLook no further than the back three (or four), who are out of form or, in the case of West Brom’s Gonzalo Jara, out of fitness. Bielsa has had fewer than half the friendlies he wanted to prepare. Some Chilean pessimists fear a repeat of his time with Argentina in 2002: after topping qualification by 12 points, they fell flat at the finals.

Interesting factDespite the earthquake, incoming President Sebastian Pinera used his first weeks in power to organise an over-50s friendly with Bolivian leader Evo Morales.

The Coach: Marcelo ‘El Loco’ BielsaThe man whose wisdom has already given rise to a self-help book, Bielsa’s discipline and artfulness make him an old-schooler’s dream. “He’s transformed us into a more professional group, and now we work with tenacity in training,” says midfielder Jorge Valdivia.

Key Player: Alexis SanchezChile don’t have a celebrity player, but they will soon. Alexis Sanchez – the Boy Wonder – can dribble and then some. His biggest enemy seems to be gravity: stay up, lad.

Probable Team (3-3-1-3): 
Ponce, Medel, Jara; 
Carmona, Millar, Vidal; 
Sanchez, Suazo, Gonzalez

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the playersQ&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation

Honduras, June 16, 12.30pm, NelspruitSwitzerland, 
June 21, 3pm, Nelson Madela Bay/Port ElizabethSpain, June 25, 7.30pm, Tshwane/Pretoria

Qualified 2nd in CONMEBOLArgentina (A) 0-2
Peru (H) 2-0
Uruguay (A) 2-2

Paraguay (H) 0-3

Bolivia (A) 2-0

Venezuela (A) 3-2

Brazil (H) 0-3

Colombia (H) 4-0
Ecuador (A) 0-1

Argentina (H) 1-0

Peru (A) 3-1

Uruguay (H) 0-0

Paraguay (H) 2-0

Bolivia (H) 4-0

Venezuela (H) 2-2

Brazil (A) 2-4

Colombia (A) 4-2

Ecuador (H) 1-0

World Cup record1930 1st Round
1950 1st Round1962 Third Place1966 First Round1974 First Round1982 First Round1994 Disqualified

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