Chile Camp Focus – Ex-Liverpool star Gonzalez sends La Roja into rhapsody

Just a single goal separated Chile and Switzerland this afternoon at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium to put Marcelo Bielsa’s men top of Group H with six points. Chile had a number of clear cut chances to score a second and put breathing space between them and a relentless Swiss side that beat European Champions Spain on Friday. After today’s win, La Roja are in a prime position to go through top of the group, but anything less than a point against the Spanish may be all that it takes to turn the tide against them.

It was Mark Gonzalez that broke the deadlock on 75 minutes, and it was a goal that sent a sea of red into ecstatic celebration. The former Liverpool man met a well-weighted cross from the right from Esteban Paredas to head Chile to victory, with their final game against the capricious Spanish. Regrettably, it was Saudi Arabian referee Khalid Al Ghamdi that put the dampers on what could have been a fast-paced, all action affair between two nations battling for the top spot. In total, the whistle-happy referee gave nine players yellow cards, six of those to Chile, and a red card shown to West Ham’s Valon Behrami after just half an hour of play.

Humberto Suazo was the first player to be shown yellow just a minute into the game. The 29-year-old who scored 10 goals in qualification failed to show the same goal scoring doggedness today and was substituted by Bielsa at the halfway stage. Once again the source of Chile’s creativity came in the yellow boots of Alexis Sanchez wide right. Indeed, the best opportunity of the first half fell to the Udinese winger but he was unable to generate enough power behind the shot to beat Diego Benaglio between the Swiss posts. Sanchez found the back of the net early in the second half when his 20 yard drive deflected off Jorge Valdivia to deceive Benaglio, but it was fairly ruled out as Valdivia was in an offside position.

Swiss chances were few and far between, yet substitute Eren Derdiyok had a golden opportunity to bring his side level, but his shot from 12 yards was hooked innocently wide of Claudio Bravo’s goal. Though they sit top of Group H with maximum points, Bielsa will feel his side should have scored more goals. Paredas had two of Chile’s best chances to better the score line, the first he fired over the crossbar and the second, the wrong side of the post. The South American’s play their final match against the Spanish on Friday on a day that will determine the final two places in the Last 16. So far, the other four South American countries have all had encouraging starts to the competition and are all on course to progress from their respective groups into the Last 16.

Before today’s match, Switzerland had gone an incredible 492 minutes without conceding a goal in the World Cup. Even Bielsa, who is considered one of the most attack-minded Coaches in the game, found it difficult to breakdown a resilient Swiss side. After a futile first half, Bielsa made three crucial changes that effectively won them the match: “I wanted to use Gonzalez to open up more spaces,” said El Loco after the match. “I put on Valdivia to give us more options and Paredes was brought on because at that point in the second half I thought we needed a finisher.” Indeed, his changes proved crucial as Gonzalez scored the vital goal while Paredas provided the assist and should have scored a brace of his own.

Spain finally got their South Africa World Cup underway this evening with a 2-0 win over Honduras. If the European Champions beat Chile on Friday they will be on level points at the top of the Group. Should Switzerland also win in their final game against Honduras, all three teams will be on level points and goal difference will be used to decide who goes through. Chile currently have an unglamorous grand total of two goals from their two matches which is two more than the Swiss and one more than the Spanish after today’s matches. If Switzerland beat Honduras and Spain beat Chile on Friday, at the very least La Roja must score goals to have any chance of going through as runners-up. But with Brazil on course to finish top Group G, Chile will want to advance as winners of the Group and play either Portugal or the Ivory Coast. Whichever way you look at it, it is sweaty palms time for every team with a chance of advancing from their group.

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