Chile got their Group H campaign off to a winning start against Honduras, although they failed to secure the margin of victory their dominance deserved. A 34th minute goal from Jean Beausejour was enough to earn the three points and they could have scored more in what was a rare attacking display so far at the World Cup.
Chile started brightly and twice came close in the first 10 minutes. Matias Fernandez hit a freekick just over the bar in the 2nd minute before Arturo Vidal caused Noel Valladares problems with a swerving shot from long range. They took a deserved lead after 34 minutes through Beausejour. Fernandez fed Mauricio Isla down the right flank and he crossed low to the near post. Sergio Mendoza tried to clear but he could only deflect the ball on to Beausejour and it ricocheted into the net. The Chileans could have had a penalty just before halftime when Alexis Sanchez’s shot hit Maynor Figueroa on the hand although there was a surprising lack of appeals for the referee to consider.
There was still time for Honduras to register their best effort before the break, with Claudio Bravo having to tip Ramon Nunez’s 35 yard freekick over after Sanchez had brought down Emilio Izaguirre. Waldo Ponce had a glorious chance to make it 2-0 after 64 minutes, but his header was kept out by a wonderful point blank save from Valladares. A freekick into the box was headed down by Vidal and Ponce stooped to head unmarked from five yards but Valladares somehow got across to repel the effort. Moments earlier Sanchez had dragged a shot just wide of the post after a burst through the middle. Substitute Mark Gonzalez came on for Chile for the last three minutes plus stoppage time and managed four speculative efforts, the best of which flew just over the bar.
After so much negative football in the opening round of games at the 2010 World Cup, it was refreshing to see Chile come out with such a positive approach. Whilst they looked like they could do with Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano – their dangerous strike force the last time they qualified 12 years ago – to provide an end product, they were always willing to attack and commit men forward. Alexis Sanchez in particular caught the eye with his dangerous running at defenders and his ability to cut in off either wing. The opening goal was an excellent example of the Chilean philosophy with seven players ahead of the ball in advanced positions in the Honduran half during the build up. There was an element of luck in the finish, with Beausejour having missed with his initial attempt at contact, but he was rewarded for gambling on a near post run, and for the excellent delivery on the cross.
Honduras struggled to impact on the game but for once it was not through a lack of ambition. Rather than being prepared to pack bodies behind the ball and grind out a result, they played a more natural open game and suffered only from a lack of quality. Edgar Alvarez looked particularly dangerous with his bursting runs into Chilean territory but it was hard for his side to string together passing moves. It is not surprising that Honduras were unable to match their opponents’ level considering they started with seven part-time semi-professionals from their local league. Their two big stars, Figueroa and Wilson Palacios, are defensive players and whilst they made it hard for Chile to open them up, they were never going to aid their team at the other end.
The second half brought some positive substitutions from the Hondurans, who ended up with three strikers on the pitch following the arrivals of Georgie Welcome and Walter Martinez. Despite such positivity, it was hard for the Honduran midfield to get any hold on the game and present chances for the front men. There are certainly some positives they can take out of the game. For all the attacking threat offered by Chile, they managed to keep the score down to just one goal conceded. Whilst they will surely suffer more at the hands of the more clinical Spain in their next game, they might be able to contain Switzerland. They will still be underdogs in their final match, but if their morale is not dented too badly by the Spanish, then they will certainly give the Swiss a game.
Chile might be concerned at their failure to finish off the Hondurans after dominating this game throughout but they will certainly have gained many neutral fans after this positive showing. This was a game they had to win and they played on the front foot throughout. Too many middle ranking sides at this World Cup have looked to avoid defeat in their first game instead of going for the win, but Chile have taken the correct attitude to trying to secure the second qualifying spot for the knockout stages alongside Group H favourites Spain. Sanchez was a clear choice as man-of-the-match and Jorge Valdivia also looked dangerous throughout.
Honduras – Valladares, Chavez, Figueroa, Izaguirre, Mendoza, Nunuz (Martinez 78), Wilson Palacios, Espinoza, Alvarez, Guevara (Thomas 65), Pavon (Georgie Welcome 60)
Chile – Bravo, Carrizo, Isla, Medel, Carmona, Vidal (Contreras 81), Valdivia (Gonzalez 86), Fernandez, Rodrigo Millar (Jara 52), Sanchez, Beausejour