In the city where Chile’s hopes of winning the Under-20 World Cup diminished six years ago, La Roja saw their 10 game unbeaten game unravel as Brazil won 2-1 under the roof in Toronto.
Jorge Sampaoli’s men struggled throughout against a physical yet nimble, powerful but fleet-footed Brazil team who are rightfully installed as favourites to win the their sixth World Cup on home soil and banish the memories of defeat in 1950.
Don Sampa stressed the positives of the match in the aftermath and rightfully so. This is a Chile team who have been revitalised under the Argentine’s management.
“Overall, this leaves us feeling good because it knows we can aspire to high level in the future.”
However, as well as the bountiful positives, the recent glamour friendlies against England and Brazil will have raised concerns. He did touch on that after the game.
“There are a lot of things that need to be analysed. We will have to sit back and look at things.”
And that would have been his plan all along when he arranged such tough games claiming that Friday’s game was the start of the World Cup for the team. His two biggest concerns will no doubt regard the unavailability of certain players if tiredness, injury or suspension hits in Brazil. No one really played their way into a core group which will no doubt see the most game time come June. Secondly, the team’s mistakes which lead to good opportunities for the opposition. But the caveat being it is the way the team play.
Here are a few notes from Tuesday night’s games:
Marcelo Díaz’s controlling influence
Okay. So I am probably getting very boring, or at the least tiresome, with my constant praise of the diminutive 21. But once again his influence was notable by his absence when he went off injured. La Roja were already missing Arturo Vidal and Mauricio Isla.
After all, Chile’s two most disappointing results under Sampaoli prior to the Brazil game were the 1-0 defeat to Peru and manic 3-3 draw with Colombia when La Roja were leading 3-0. In both games Díaz was missing. He is one of the most composed players in possession in football. The type, like the exalted Xavi and Andrea Pirlo, who have that visceral quality of looking into the immediate future to see how the game unfolds. He knows when and where to pass it. At what pace and at what angle. When all around him appears to be anarchy he is that sensible, controlling influence. Sampaoli noted such after the game.
“We did feel the loss of Marcelo Diaz initially. We knew Jorge Valdivia wasn’t going to be able to play at 100% and the substitution helped us move forward more effectively. It gave us someone to control the play in midfield.”
Chile were being overrun despite moving Medel into midfield for a short period. But like all good managers Sampaoli reacted. However, it had to be Valdivia to come on. Although not immediately. Jean Beausejour was first on then José Pedro Fuenzalida had to make way for El Mago. There was no direct replacement for Díaz.
Sampaoli used his persuasive powers to coax him out of retirement and it is imperative David Pizarro is taken to Brazil in case the unthinkable happens and Díaz is unavailable.
We touched on it above. Jorge Valdivia’s introduction helped stem the constant Brazil pressure to get Chile up the pitch.
“This Brazil is a team that won the Confederations Cup quite easily and won all their friendlies recently… we had some early problems going forward that we have to look at more closely, but we’re very happy overall.”
Díaz’s injury upset the balance and structure of the team. Valdivia was key in piecing it back together, even if he didn’t played like the Wizard we know he is. But like Díaz, Vidal and Medel he has an influence that you can’t quantify.
“Jorge put in a tremendous effort today, at some points he couldn’t feel his legs.”
It was a risk playing him and it was no surprise when he was removed around the hour mark. He was clearly not fit and he, at times, reminded me of an elderly referee that used to officiate my youth games, barely moving from the centre circle. Matias Fernández came on and impressed more than on Friday. He added dynamism. However, it is notable how well the system works with El Mago heading the attack or the tip of the midfield. It is highly unlikely he’ll be able to play games every two or three days.
That’s where it is important Sampaoli finds a number 9 striker which offers a suitable plan B or C.
Chile’s toughest opponents: themselves
Let’s face it, Chile won’t play against more difficult opponents. As already mentioned this is a powerful, tall and mobile Brazil side which possess ball-playing centre backs, attacking full-backs, combative midfielders, creative midfielders, players who can run in behind, players who can breeze past opponents in one-on-one situations and players who can score from all angles and distances.
Chile are at their most susceptible when they lose the ball and opponents can break swiftly. Brazil do this expertly, while Sampaoli is steadfast to his philosophy. He knew the team would be taking a risk against Brazil. Some would call it naive but he used the word courageous, using the respect Brazil paid to Chile as a barometer of just how good his team are.
“What I take from this performance is the desire that this team showed. To go head-to-head against Brazil, the best team in the world, and have the ball and attack [was pleasing]. I think we could have drawn the game. It was a great effort that lead us to compete against a team that counter-attacks so well.
“We played against a team who have some of the best players in the world sitting on their substitutes bench. To leave space for the likes of Robinho and Hulk shows the courage that we showed. Brazil’s willingness to play on the counter-attack shows the respect they have for us.”
Although, even lesser teams can counter-attack efficiently when you present them with the ball in dangerous positions. Brazil, with the monstrous duo of Luis Gustavo and Paulinho, worked hard to press Chile into mistakes. But there were other times when sloppy possession play presented Brazil with easy counter-attacking opportunities. They had three presentable chances to score in the opening half, one of which they did score from, due to slack play from Chile.
Some of it can be put down to tiredness.
“I think we suffered because of some missing players and some who were not at 100% after the game against England.”
There was a brief mention in the England review about Chile’s smart play in the second half, taking the sting out of the game and keeping the ball off the opponents. This will need to increase in Brazil to conserve energy and keep players fresh for high-octane football throughout the tournament. Again, Díaz is crucial to this due to his desire to get the ball and his composure when he does get it.
A better week for the players who were missing
None of the fringe players or players recently brought into the squad gave performances that would have made Sampaoli carve their name into the core of players he has already earmarked for Brazil.
Pizarro should be taken as a Díaz back-up, while Mauricio Pinilla, Humberto Suazo, Ángelo Henríquez and Nicolas Castillo will have been watching on knowing if they are in good-form and good health they have every chance of being included.
Fernández recovered from a poor performance in London but Sampaoli will still want more from Matí; Felipe Gutiérrez got plenty of game time without standing out; Fuenzalida was unfortunate with Díaz’s injury but should still be in Sampaoli’s thoughts as he is one of the most consistent players in the country.
There is no point trying to define Chile’s formation. They constantly switched from a back three to a back four, while in attack there was constant movement with few players in defined positions.
Both Eugenio Mena and Fuenzalida had turns as a full-back, wing-back and even further up the wing. Alexis Sánchez was everywhere. But not in the way you want. He was constantly dropping to around and even beyond the half way line into his half. He was holding into the ball for too long and slowing the game down. Not doubt a frustration of Díaz’s absence.
Marcelo Díaz. El Pegamento.
Thanks to Rupert Fryer for supplying the quotes.