Coach Marcelo Bielsa is continuing to fine-tune his squad ahead of the World Cup with back-to-back wins against Northern Ireland and Israel. Just a single goal from Esteban Paredes, who scored on the half hour mark with a far post header, separated Chile and the Irish. In the second of the two warm-up matches, the Chileans impressed in a 3-0 win over Israel in thick fog. Top marksman Humberto Suazo almost inevitably made the score sheet with the opener after 18 minutes, while Udinese’s talented winger Alexis Sanchez blasted home the second from 20 yards just after the break. In the final minute of the match Chile made it three through Rodrigo Tello.
Despite encouraging performances in their last three warm-up games, Humberto Suazo is reportedly struggling with a muscle injury he sustained in the match against Israel. The absence of the 29-year-old, who scored ten goals during qualification, will be a huge blow to his country. Even with his injury, which is understood to be a torn hamstring, Bielsa still included the striker in his final 23 announced on Tuesday. After Hector Mancilla was dismissed from the preliminary squad a week ago, Fabian Orellana and Esteban Paredes are the most obvious replacements for Suazo – who is expected to miss Chile’s opening match against Honduras on 16 June. Chile still have one final friendly match to play against New Zealand on 9 June which will allow Bielsa to experiment with his forward line. La Roja are not nearly as potent in the final third without Suazo spearheading the attack, but his inclusion in any of the group matches is uncertain.
Bielsa was quick to axe five midfield members of his preliminary 30-man squad after their disappointing 1-0 defeat to Mexico on 17 May, leaving him with just two decisions to make before he had his final 23 for the competition. Hector Mancilla was next to face the chop, just a day after winning the Mexican League title with Toluca. Bielsa’s no-nonsense pruning left him with just one player to omit on deadline day, while most other Coaches still had a number of difficult decisions to make. Defender Roberto Cereceda was the unlucky final player to be dropped from the squad. Cereceda’s omission was widely predicted as he was only included in the preliminary squad to replace the injured Marco Estrada in midfield. Estrada has since recovered and will appear in South Africa.
The Chile Football team will be flying a special flag out in South Africa. In February the country was struck by a massive earthquake and amid the devastation a flag was pulled from the rubble. Since then it has become a symbol of national resurgence and will be going to the World Cup to fly high above the Chilean camp in Nelspruit. One of La Roja’s most recognised football icons, Marcelo Salas, who starred at the forefront of Chile’s team at France 1998, was given the responsibility to deliver the flag to the players: “This represents the people who suffered so much. It was emotional for me to have it in my hands, and I’m happy that it will be there in the team’s base.”
The beginning of the tournament is quickly approaching and participating coaches will be mulling over the same question: which players will make their starting XI. Fundamental for Chile is their forward line, consisting of Mark Gonzalez, Suazo and Sanchez. At just 21, Sanchez has been labelled as the hottest talent to emerge from Chile in recent years and will be vital to Chile’s success in South Africa, even more so with the news of Suazo’s injury. Lightning-fast and tricky on the ball, the right winger has the ability to become a superstar at the World Cup and his growing eye for goal could be even more crucial without their top scorer.
Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad/Spain), Miguel Pinto (Universidad de Chile), Luis Marin (Union Espanola)
Defenders: Pablo Contreras (PAOK/Greece), Ismael Fuentes (Universidad Catolica), Mauricio Isla (Udinese/Italy), Gary Medel (Boca Juniors/Argentina), Gonzalo Jara (West Bromwich/England), Waldo Ponce (Universidad Catolica), Arturo Vidal (Bayer Leverkusen/Germany)
Midfielders: Carlos Carmona (Reggina/Italy), Marco Estrada (Universidad de Chile), Matias Fernandez (Sporting Lisbon/Portugal), Gonzalo Fierro (Flamengo/Brazil), Rodrigo Millar (Colo Colo), Rodrigo Tello (Besiktas/Turkey), Jorge Valdivia (Al-Ain/United Arab Emirates)
Strikers: Jean Beausejour (America/Mexico), Mark Gonzalez (CSKA Moscow/Russia), Fabian Orellana (Xerez/Spain), Esteban Paredes (Colo Colo), Alexis Sanchez (Udinese/Italy), Humberto Suazo (Real Zaragoza/Spain)