Absent from the last two
With the experience of Coach Marcelo Bielsa of Argentina at the forefront of their World Cup campaign, the South American nation hope to make as much ease of their group matches as they did of qualifying. Only topped by Brazil in the continental qualifying group by a single point, Chile have a strike-force just as ruthless as the one they boasted in France 12 years ago. They managed to score 32 goals from their 18 qualifiers, 10 of those coming from 29-year-old Humberto Suazo, making him the top goal-scorer in qualifying and one to watch closely in Group H. Having notched more goals than every other South American team – bar Brazil – on the road to South Africa, it comes as no surprise to see their star players in the offensive positions. Suazo has already set the pace at the forefront of the attack with his ten goals in qualifying.
His experience in the centre forward position will aid the unnurtured talent of 21-year-old winger Alexis Sanchez of Italian club Udinese. ‘El Nino Maravilla’ (Wonder-boy) as he has come to be known, has been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and is considered one of the most exciting young prospects of the tournament. Just as threatening for the Chileans is 24-year-old Matias Fernandez. With a tenacious free-kick and the team’s playmaker in the centre of midfield, Fernandez has been a crucial component in the Chilean attack and was hot property before qualifying even began, with the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea keeping a close eye on his progress.
With Bielsa at the helm of an attacking Chilean vessel bound for South Africa, fans are expecting their team to sink the opposition and make the last 16. After taking charge of Chile three years ago, Bielsa has transformed a side reliant on the goals from Salas and Zamorano, into a 3-3-1-3 attacking unit capable of scoring goals all over the pitch. Former Liverpool winger Mark Gonzalez is the final piece to Chile’s forward line. The lightning quick left winger failed to make a lasting impression at Anfield, but has since settled at CSKA Moscow and is a vital ingredient to Bielsa’s all out attack.
Current European Championship holders Spain are the other team most likely to advance from the group but neither team should be too complacent, with Switzerland and Honduras as worthy adversaries to add a tasty twist to Group H’s Latin experience. Seeded second in the tournament, Spain are favourites to finish top of the group but Gonzalez is confident his team can progress into the last 16: “To be honest, it’s going to be very hard to compete for first place but we’ll be looking to finish at least second and qualify for the next round.”
Bielsa has already cut five midfield players from the provisional 30-man squad, after Chile’s 1-0 friendly defeat at the hands of Mexico. Manuel Iturra’s dismissal from the World Cup squad comes as no surprise after he was sent off just two minutes after he was introduced as a substitute. The other four players to fall out of favour were Pedro Morales, Jaime Valdes, Charles Aranguiz and Jose Pedro Fuenzalida. Bielsa must reduce his squad by a further two players by June 1 when the final lists are announced.
Preliminary 30-man Chile squad
Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad)
Miguel Pinto (Universidad de Chile)
Luis Marin (Union Espanola)
Roberto Cereceda (Colo Colo)
Pablo Contreras (PAOK)
Ismael Fuentes (Universidad Catolica)
Mauricio Isla (Udinese)
Gary Medel (Boca Juniors)
Gonzalo Jara (West Bromwich Albion)
Waldo Ponce (Universidad Catolica)
Arturo Vidal (Bayer Leverkusen).
Charles Aranguiz (Colo Colo)
Carlos Carmona (Reggina)
Marco Estrada (Universidad de Chile)
Matias Fernandez (Sporting Lisbon)
Gonzalo Fierro (Flamengo)
Jose Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo Colo)
Manuel Iturra (Universidad de Chile)
Rodrigo Millar (Colo Colo)
Pedro Morales (Dinamo Zagreb)
Rodrigo Tello (Besiktas)
Jorge Valdivia (Al-Ain)
Jaime Valdes (Atalanta)
Jean Beausejour (America)
Mark Gonzalez (CSKA Moscow)
Hector Mancilla (Toluca)
Fabian Orellana (Xerez)
Esteban Paredes (Colo Colo)
Alexis Sanchez (Udinese)
Humberto Suazo (Real Zaragoza)