2010 World Cup profile: Chile
By Tim Vickery, SI.com
Alexis Sánchez, who flourishes on the wing, is the key to Chile's high-tempo attack.
Marcelo Hernandez/LatinContent/Getty Images
Through April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week. We continue with Chile. Click here for the full archive.
Coach Marcelo Bielsa is a believer in attacking soccer with two wingers, and Alexis Sánchez on the right is the jewel in his crown. Wonderfully tricky, dangerous in one-on-one situations, Sánchez is the man Chile looks for to carve open defenses.
The main beneficiary of his wing play is center forward Humberto Suazo who, with 10 goals, was the top scorer in South America's qualification campaign. Easy to underestimate because he's not an imposing presence, Suazo is a late developer who has become a thoroughly proficient marksman.
Suazo swaps positions well with attacking midfielder Matías Fernández. There's a touch of Brazil's Kaká about the young Chilean, and though he has yet to catch fire in European club soccer, he provides thrust and a fierce shot in the service of the national team.
The captain is goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, an agile shot-stopper who will have a key role organizing the defense in front of him.
What to watch for
Getting Chile into its first World Cup since 1998 was Bielsa's triumph. The Argentine coach convinced his players of the virtues of his favored 3-3-1-3 system, with its focus on high-tempo attack, pressing the opposition in its half and a constant quest to create two-on-one situations down the flanks.
When the Chileans are clicking, they're a joy to watch, with lots of quick passing and aggressive intentions. It's surely a good sign that in qualifying they won more games on the road than anyone else in the continent.
On the other hand, there's a fear that Chile can leave itself too open against counterattacking specialists, and its defense looks very vulnerable in the air. Without a lot of height, La Roja could struggle against physically stronger opponents. Either way, Chile -- which is ramping up preparations for the World Cup again after canceling two early-March warmup matches in the wake of the country's 8.8-magnitude earthquake -- promises to be one of the most interesting sides in South Africa.
Key match in group stage
June 16 vs. Honduras. With powerful Spain coming up last, Chile almost certainly needs to win this game to progress to the knockout stages. The pressure is on right from the start and, in addition to the Central Americans, Chile is up against history. With the exception of '62, which it hosted, Chile's last win in a World Cup match came against the U.S. back in 1950.
Celebrity scouting report: Fernando Gonzalez*
[Coach Bielsa] has the confidence of the players. They all believe in him and that's the most important thing to achieve as a football coach. The results are good. He's a good person, so it really doesn't matter where he's from... There are a few players who can change the history of the match in a very short time, such as strikers Suazo and Sanchez, and midfielders Fernández and Jorge Valdivia. These are very talented players who can make a huge difference in a game. ... I really wish David Pizarro [the Roma midfielder who turned his back on the national team in 2008] would have been recalled earlier, but now there are many good players in the team and I think he didn't take part in the process, which makes it difficult for him to come back. ... We have really big chances to go forward. I think I will have to bet on the chances with [Spaniard Rafael] Nadal and [Swiss Roger] Federer! But Spain, of course, is the tough one in the group, as it has one of the best teams in the world. Honduras and Switzerland, I think we can beat. I mean, it's not an accident that Chile is in the World Cup. All matches will be tough, but we have a chance to move forward.
*The 10th-ranked player on the ATP Tour is from Santiago, Chile. As told to Bryan Armen Graham.