Chile Camp Focus – La Roja make easy work of Zambia as World Cup draws closer

Chile cruised to a 3-0 victory over Zambia yesterday at the Estadio Nacional de Chile. The Chipolopolo, who made it to the quarter-finals in the African Cup of Nations back in January, were worthy opponents but failed to trouble captain Claudio Bravo in the Chile goal. After a slow first-half with very few chances at either end, Marcelo Bielsa’s decision to introduce four fresh legs at half-time proved crucial.

Alexis Sanchez, who normally makes the starting XI for La Roja, opened the scoring on 52 minutes with an easy tap in, testament to why the 21-year-old must start in South Africa. With six minutes left on the clock, the Udinese winger unleashed a blistering shot from outside the box for his second of the evening and his 10th International goal, before Jorge Valdivia made it three, two minutes later.

Bielsa will hope his men can continue their current form when they play Northern Ireland on Sunday and Israel on May 31. On June 9, just two days before the tournament officially begins, Chile are scheduled to take on Group F’s New Zealand. South American rivals Uruguay also won comfortably last night in their warm up match with a 4-1win over Israel.

Hector Mancilla has become the sixth player to be cut from the Chilean World Cup squad by Coach Bielsa. The centre forward, who has won the Mexico Golden Boot twice in a row, helped his club Toluca win the Mexican League on Sunday, only to be told the next day he would not be boarding the plane to South Africa. Mancilla’s cut follows the dismissal of five midfield players last week.

Bielsa’s latest discharge leaves him with only one more player to exclude before he has his final 23-man squad for the World Cup. Managers have until June 1 before they must announce their final list of players for the competition, but the Chilean Coach has wasted no time at all to rigorously taper his preliminary 30-man squad.

Bielsa was the manager of his home country Argentina during their 2002 World Cup campaign in Asia but failed to take them past the first round: “I’m not looking at this as a chance to get revenge for what happened to me in 2002. Nothing I can ever achieve in the future will make that sadness go away.” He will hope to do better this time round and take Chile past the group stages into the last 16.

La Roja have already been tipped as ones to watch in Group H and, along with European champions Spain, will hope to make easy work of Switzerland and Honduras. After failing to make the last two World Cup Finals, Chile’s place in South Africa has been put down to the work of Bielsa, who has moulded the South American country into a fast-paced, attacking country that can score goals from any position.

Nicknamed El Loco Bielsa or ‘Madman Bielsa’ by his adopted country for his attention to detail, the Argentine has opted to choose a very young and inexperienced side for South Africa. Their tenacity going forward was only second to Brazil in qualifying, but at the back they are considerably weaker and vulnerable. Conceding 22 goals in qualification, Bielsa has tried various combinations and formations to solve the problem at the back, but none have proved convincing and watertight. Most recently Bielsa has chosen to play just three at the back, composing of Waldo Ponce of the Chilean league, Gonzalo Jara of West Bromwich Albion, and Gary Medel of Boca Juniors.

Off the pitch, the President of the Chilean Football Federation Harold Mayne-Nicholls has said exclusive interviews with the Chilean players will come at a price: “If somebody wants an exclusive interview, whether oral or filmed with the players, outside of the daily press conferences, that has added value.” Mayne-Nicholls has said his decision is no different to those taken by other sports stars in other fields: “I see that other TV channels, when they invite a television star for an interview, they pay them. I don’t see why football should be any different. If the media desire an exclusive interview, they go after it and they pay for it – that is a worldwide practice.” The 48-year-old has said the payment does not have to come in the form of money, but failed to explain what else would be an acceptable means of payment.


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