(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
Every four years when the World Cup occurs (heck, every two years really when the European tournament happens), they’ll be teams that draw in neutral fans sans teams like Brazil or Spain who don’t have a dog in the race, fans wanting to be entertained, especially those whose main exposure to football is through the World Cup. This iteration of the tournament brings us a number of worthy candidates. We have a Belgium side who’s host to a number of English Premier league talent like Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku. Japan has Kesiuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa while Croatia have wonderful midfield talent in their disposal.
Chile belong in that group if only cause they play with no fear. They make Liverpool in comparison look conservative. A team who give great service to the idea of South American flair with their movement, fast pace tempo and their ability to bring their full backs up with the ease that they do. It’s beautiful on the eye, it’s efficient in its use and it’s everything that modern football should be (sorry for getting on my high horse for a second there).
Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad/ESP) Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile), Cristopher Toselli (Universidad Católica), Paulo Garcés (O’Higgins)
Defenders: Gary Medel (Cardiff City/ENG), José Rojas (Universidad de Chile), Eugenio Mena (Santos/BRA), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest/ENG), Marcos González (Unión Española), Enzo Andía (Universidad Católica)
Midfielders: Arturo Vidal, Mauricio Isla (both Juventus/ITA), Marcelo Díaz (FC Basel/SUI), Francisco Silva (Osasuna/ESP), Rodrigo Millar (CSD Atlas/MEX), Pedro Pablo Hernández (O’Higgins), Felipe Gutiérrez (FC Twente Enschede/NED), José Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo Colo), Carlos Carmona (Atalanta/ITA), Jean Beausejour (Wigan Athletic/ENG), Charles Aránguiz (Internacional/BRA), Miiko Albornoz (Malmo FF/SWE)
Forwards: Alexis Sánchez (Barcelona/ESP), Eduardo Vargas (Valencia/ESP on loan from Napoli/ITA), Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras/BRA), Mauricio Pinilla (Cagliari/ITA), Esteban Paredes (Colo Colo), Fabián Orellana (Celta Vigo/ESP), Matías Fernández (Injured and out for the WC) (Fiorentina/ITA), Gustavo Canales (Unión Española)
The obvious concern with Chile is whether Arturo Vidal will be fully fit for the World Cup on June 13. Arguably their most influential player, the prototypical box to box midfielder who had a career high 22 goals on the season in all tournaments for Serie A champions Juventus (though that’s due in part because of career high SH%’s). His tackling along with his stamina to play both ends of the pitch are crucial for a Chile side that play with the pace that’s almost similar to the Phoenix Suns of yesteryears. However Chile didn’t go unscathed with the injury bug as Matias Fernandez has been ruled out for the tournament, needing ankle surgery on his right ankle.
Alexis Sanchez and Vargas should do well in the tournament regardless of the Fernandez injury, especially Sanchez who’s looked every bit the part of one of the best players in world football. His speed on the wing is breathtaking, his dribbling is great as well. In their friendly vs Germany, he pretty much did whatever he wanted, playing on the right or left and tormenting whoever Germany put against him. For the flair and collective acceptance of their ideologies from their manager Jorge Sampaoli, Chile don’t have a ton of great individual talent going past Vidal and Sanchez. For Chile to go far, they may need a couple of great performances from that duo to get past their group and advance far into the group stage.
Perhaps the shaky issue with Chile is their defense. Chile press and press and press some more, alternating between 3 and 4 at the back. They played with a 3 back formation with Isla among others working as a wing-back versus Germany with great success. It was actually remarkable to see how Chile worked with ease against Germany despite the loss. Their collective approach to press high up the pitch certainly make the formations much more malleable for Sampaoli despite having middling talent, a credit to Sampaoli for engraining his ideals of what he wants Chile to be relative to other nations and their tactical beliefs. Medel, Isla, Gonzalo Jara are certainly not the most robust defenders out there, but they make it work, especially Medel who plays like football’s equivalent of a pitbull.
An interesting subplot with Group B is the Netherlands/Chile matchup, with two sides that will in theory want to attack. We know the amount of tactical tinkering that Louis Van Gaal has done over his managerial career, with him yearning for his Dutch side to be more attacking, switching to a 5-3-2. And with the pace that Chile play combined with how easily they can play with a back three, it should be theater to see how the teams cope to each other’s idea of how to play successful international football (or Chile could simply run Netherlands off the pitch while the Dutch self combust as usual in international tournaments. One of the two).
Out of the four teams in Group B, Chile will be the people’s choice to see progress into the knockout stage. They certainly play the most attractive football from the four teams (unless you want to argue about the ideals that Tiki-Taka football bring at its peak form), they have the singular talent in Vargas, Sanchez, and Vidal that also sublimate very well with how Chile play, and there is some merit to a South American team playing in an environment that suit their collective team mentality. Their defense is where the talent dries up rather quickly and will perhaps be Chile’s ultimate doing if they do in fact not progress through the group stage. There’s something really special about this Chile iteration and it just maybe the best team Chile has ever trotted out since 1962. No matter what their World Cup story will eventually tell us, they’ll do it with the type of flair that’ll make them a meta-fans’ wet dream.