Chile Camp Focus – Suazo’s fitness a conern for Chile

Chile continued to impress in their preparatory matches with their first World Cup match just days away. La Roja beat rank outsiders New Zealand 2-0 on 9 June, with the goals from Gonzalo Fierro and Esteban Parades. The match was played in three 30 minute periods and was not classed as an official international match. Instead the fixture was an opportunity for both managers to experiment with fringe players that have yet to cement their starting place in the squad.

Fierro scored the first of the two goals on 68 minutes while Parades hit home the second just four minutes later to give Chile a comfortable win, with just under a week until their first group match in Group H against Honduras. All 4,000 tickets for the match were given to the spectators for free by local authorities so they could see their sides play their final warm-up match before the tournament begins. Chile Coach Marcelo Bielsa experimented with almost all of his 23 man squad, with the exception of Humberto Suazo who remains injured.

Suazo has still not fully recovered from the injury he sustained in last week’s warm-up match against Israel. Yet Bielsa spoke positively about the striker’s progress and believes he could be fit for their first game next Wednesday. Defender Pablo Contreras also spoke positively of his teammates progress: “It’s great news, as much for the squad as for Humberto. The truth is that we are surprised that he has made such a fast recovery.” The 29-year-old’s most obvious replacement would be Esteban Paredes, who plays his club football for Colo Colo, but an entire nation will be hoping his name does not appear in the starting XI next Wednesday.

Former Real Madrid and Chile striker Ivan Zamorano has said his country should not get complacent when they face Honduras on 16 June. His word of warning comes after Bielsa said the very same thing: Honduras are not to be underestimated: “The matches that Honduras have played in getting here mean nothing,” said Zamorano, who played for Chile in France 1998. “Marcelo Bielsa has tried to control the expectancy. We must keep our feet on the ground and remember that Chile are not among the favourites to win the World Cup.”

While Switzerland and minnows Honduras must not be taken lightly, Chile and European Champions Spain are the favourites to progress into the last 16 from Group H. The South Americans are due to meet the European Champions on 25 June at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria. This is arguably the most anticipated match of Group H, with the winner more than likely topping the group. The two countries have faced each other eight times but Chile have only ever held them to a draw. As one of the favourites to win the entire tournament, Spain are expected to win Group H, and Chile may have to contend with Honduras and Switzerland and settle for the runner-up spot. Should Chile go through into the last 16 in second place, they will play the winners of Group G. Brazil, regrettably, are the favourites to win Group G and would therefore play Chile should Bielsa’s side make it through the Group stage as runners-up. Should Chile win Group H, Portugal or the Ivory Coast are the most likely opposition with Korea DPR as rank outsiders of Group G.

Chile finished second in qualifying for South Africa and were only outdone by Brazil. When the two countries met during qualification, Brazil won 4-2 with both of Chile’s goals coming from the injured Suazo. If he can regain fitness for the tournament and find the phenomenal form he showcased in qualifying, the star striker could be the key to Chile’s success this summer, but only time will tell if he will be fit for duty.

Chile’s star winger Mark Gonzalez could have been pulling on a very different jersey this summer had he chosen to play for the country of his birth. The Winger was born in Durban, near Johannesburg, and lived in South Africa until he was 10. The family returned to Chile in 1994 but Gonzalez still has recollections of his birthplace: “I’m very happy to be back in South Africa. It’s a dream to come back, especially to play in a World Cup. I have a lot of memories from when I was a kid, especially holiday places like Sun City and safaris.” Gonzalez will hope he and Chile can make more fond memories when they begin their World Cup on Wednesday.

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