Chile Camp Focus – La Roja prepare for Swiss encounter

Chile got their World Cup campaign off to a perfect start on Wednesday with a 1-0 victory over Honduras. They face giant killers Switzerland on Monday who beat European Champions Spain to go joint top with La Roja. Despite their encouraging start, Coach Marcelo Bielsa has said his team must play better if they are to progress into the knockout stages.

Group H was ripped wide open after Wednesday’s matches and Chile will hope to counter on the European Champions’ unprecedented defeat. Whilst Chile, under the stewardship of Bielsa came away from their first match with all three points, they had a number of opportunities to make the game comfortable with a second goal.

Without striker Humberto Suazo taking over the headlines like he did in qualifying it was Alexis Sanchez who stole the limelight. The Udinese winger was at the heart of the Chilean attack and helped create some of the best chances of the game. As a whole, the performance was encouraging but they clearly lack the tenacity they show with Suazo spearheading the attack. Jorge Valdivia picked up an injury in the final minutes of the Honduras match but should be fit for Monday’s match despite the rumours started by his girlfriend. Valdivia’s other half Daniela Aranguiz said on a Chilean TV show that her partner had suffered a small muscle tear that would keep him from playing in the game against Switzerland. Chile teammate Rodrigo Millar was quick to correct Aranguiz in a press conference today, confirming the player will be fit to play.

As Chile weigh up their next opponent, Switzerland’s Philippe Senderos has been ruled out of Monday’s match after sustaining an injury in the match with Spain. A statement said: “Victim of the same injury as Alex Frei, an ankle sprain, Philippe Senderos is officially out of the two matches against Chile and Honduras.” Bielsa was able to rest talisman Suazo in the opening match but may include the striker in his plans against the Swiss who are without one of their first choice centre-backs.

Group H is there for the taking after Schweizer Nati’s shock win over Spain. The European Champions were tipped to dominate the group and go through top but if Chile can beat the Swiss on Monday and at least draw with the underachievers, it is likely they will go through top of the group and avoid Brazil, who are the expected to win Group G. Chile defender Gary Medel spoke of Switzerland’s unlikely result: “We didn’t think Switzerland would beat Spain. Now, we play the Swiss next and we’ve got the chance to finish first in the group, depending on how the other match goes.”

During the opening match, hundreds of banners conveyed the same message to the world: “Chile are stronger than the earthquake.” The country was struck by a devastating tremor in February but Chile’s landmark victory on Wednesday, their first win in the World Cup for 48 years, embodied the country’s strength and regeneration after the disaster. The streets were deserted, the shops were closed and schools were shut as around 58 per cent of the Chilean population tuned into their television sets to watch the match. The entire nation was brought to a standstill, waiting in anticipation as 11 of their countrymen took to the pitch to win a game of football. Chile President Sebastian Pinera spoke of the World Cup’s significance to the country: “I hope we can pick up another victory against Switzerland. The players know that they’re carrying the hopes of a country that has suffered a great deal and which deserves a huge dose of joy.”

In the meantime, Mark Gonzalez has other motives to prolong Chile’s existence in the tournament. The Chilean winger was born in South Africa and has other things on his mind beside football: “I have seen a few of my family, my uncle and a few cousins, but I haven’t seen them all yet. They were at the game but I am looking forward to playing in Johannesburg or Pretoria so I can see more of them.” Chile play in Pretoria for their final group match but will have to make it through to the knockout stages before he has the opportunity to go to Johannesburg. After the match against the Swiss on Monday, Gonzalez will turn his attention to Chile’s final game of the group stages against the Spanish which is guaranteed to be difficult: “We all know what Spain are, they have very important players and are very dangerous. But we know we have the supporters in Chile and the family behind us. That is a very big motivation. It is the first time we have played a World Cup and we just want to do our best.”

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