Having qualified for their first World Cup since 1982 a Marcelo Salas doubled helped La Roja, coached by Nelson Acosta, to a famous 2-0 win at Wembley, albeit against an England team regarded as a ‘B side’. But just like Oasis proved with Half the World Away ‘B Sides’ can still be good – excellent even.
The crowning moment was José Luis Sierra’s glorious clipped pass from the half way line which El Matador controlled on his knee – with help from his chest – before, in one graceful motion, volleying past Nigel Martyn.
The game in 1998 brings memories flooding back for many of the players in Jorge Sampaoli’s squad. You only had to listen to Alexis Sánchez speak in front of the media for it to become apparent (even if one British newspaper decided to fabricate an interview with Chile’s golden boy).
“That game is historic for Chile,” he said. “It was something amazing what Marcelo did. We hope we are able to do that on Friday. It would be fantastic to score a goal and to help my team win. Any Chilean player would love to score at Wembley.
“It gives me great pride to face England. They are one of the strongest teams in the world. England could easily win the World Cup. For me it’s a privilege to play against them. I believe it’s going to be a beautiful game. You don’t play every day against a strong team like them and for us it’s going to be historic.”
And even if Chile will be up against a stronger England tomorrow there will be no fear from a team who have gone toe-to-toe with Spain; coming within minutes of defeating the reigning World and European champions. And it was no backs to the wall, defend at all cost performance. The performance was quick but measured, powerful yet elegant. It will be the same tomorrow.
England have played against the best in recent years and will continue to do so with Germany up next, but the Wembley crowd are in for a real treat.
Sampaoli made his intentions be known when he faced the media: “My way of thinking is that the World Cup starts on Friday.”
So much has been written about the team, the style and the manager. The country was given an identity under the revered Marcelo Bielsa and it has been continued by Sampaoli via Claudio Borghi.
If England can break the constant pressing and pressure there will be an abundance of space to play and to run into. BUT they have to break it. There will be no ‘feeling each other out’ like they do in mind-numbingly boring opening rounds of boxing. When the whistle blows Chile will attack, try to win the ball back ferociously and attack again. There best performances under Sampaoli have often come in the opening 45 minutes.
Unfortunately for Chile, Don Sampa, me, you and everyone else who will be at Wembley or tuning in, La Roja are missing two key individuals in Arturo Vidal and Jorge Valdivia – two players that represent the calculated beautiful anarchy of Chile’s play.
The players likely to come in for the duo will be Charles Aránguiz and Matías Fernández. The former is one of the best players currently in South America and is sure to be the next to make the move east to Europe with Udinese primed to take advantage of their 50% share his contract.
He is one of seven in the squad who played under Sampaoli for Universidad de Chile when the passionate Argentine led La U to a record breaking 18 months. And it is those La U players that make up the spine of Sampaoli’s La Roja. At La U they played the same way making it a simple adjustment for Sampaoli to return La Roja to its Bielsista ways.
Just like the best nations in the world – Spain, Italy and Germany – Chile rely on a core of players who have grown together and garnered experience as a group. While most England and European football fans know about Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel, Mauricio Isla, Arturo Vidal, Jean Beausejour, Alexis Sánchez and even Jorge ‘El Mago’ Valdivia, less is known about Aránguiz, José Rojas, Marcos González, Marcelo Díaz, Eugenio Mena and Eduardo Vargas.
So here is an introduction to the La U core:
Jose Rojas – Pepe is La U captain and the general of their defence. Unlikely to play due to Sampaoli looking for a more physical backline, but, strangely, probably the best out and out defender in the squad.
Quick and extremely composed on the ball – almost to the point of being too confident – he is the perfect player when Chile expect to dominate the game, providing speed when Chile get caught on the counter-attack, which happens often with the risks they take in attacking with numbers.
Marcos González – The libero of La U’s Copa Sudamericana triumph, earning himself a move to Brazilian football. Often brought into the team when a greater physical presence is required. The player in the squad with the best aerial ability.
Eugenio Mena – Think Mauricio Isla but left-footed. Can play left-back or left wing-back/left midfield. He has the stamina, pace, technical ability and intelligence to control the whole flank. Like Rojas has the pace to recover from dangerous situations. Provides La Roja with width, often attacking as a winger playing in a front four, five or however many Chile commit forward. So often gets to the by-line and whips in crosses. Could easily slot into Spain’s system as a marauding left-back.
Marcelo Díaz – THE MAN. So often when reading reviews or reports compiled on Chile, Vidal or Sánchez are seen as the main men or danger men. And why wouldn’t they? They are two of the best players in the world playing for great teams. But the most important player for Chile? Díaz. He is the deep-lying playmaker, the midfield anchor man, the protector – a modern day chameleon. Everything is short, sharp and direct. He sets the team’s tempo from deep, rarely ceding possession. His combative qualities make him the perfect anchor as he reads the game, intercepts and tackles, turning scraps into three-course meals.
Charles Aránguiz – There will be two Prince Charles in England on Friday. Díaz’s partner in crime at La U and probably the closest player to Vidal in Chile right now. Non-stop running, penetrative passing and a goal threat – although he should score more. He is an all-action midfielder, the type that will thrive against British players.
Eduardo Vargas – The player of the Copa Sudamericana in 2011, finishing top scorer despite starting as a wide forward on the right. He mastered the outside to inside run, often betting at the front post from crosses supplied by Mena or Gustavo Lorenzetti. Similar to Aránguiz, quick and dynamic emphasising La U’s system from the front line.
Controversial goalkeeper Jhonny Herrera – still one of the best in South America – completes the Universidad de Chile influence.
These players have shown their qualities in the Chilean Championship, in the South America’s two continental competitions, in the South American qualifiers. Not it is time for them to illuminate Wembley and its Arch before Brazil next year.
Expected XI (4-2-1-3): C. Bravo; M. Isla, G. Medel, M. González, E. Mena; M. Díaz, C. Aránguiz; M. Fernández; A. Sánchez, E. Vargas, J. Beausejour.
Essential Reading: Jorge Sampaoli, Chile and qualification for the World Cup – https://lonestarchile.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/viva-el-sampaolismo-chile-are-going-to-brazil/
Jorge Sampaoli, Universidad de Chile and success – https://lonestarchile.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/viva-el-sampaolismo-chile-are-going-to-brazil/