It is a match that has been described as life or death. Win and Chile are, depending on the outcome of Australia and the Netherlands, through and Spain are out. Lose and La Roja will have to defeat the Dutch on Monday and even that may not be enough.
The opportunity for Chile is massive. It is an opportunity to knock out the one of the greatest teams of all time. An opportunity to knock out the World Cup holders. An opportunity to knock out a Spanish side packed with serial winners. An opportunity for Chile to announce themselves in Brazil as a quantity to be taken seriously. An opportunity for La Roja to record one of the greatest results in their history.
When Mark Geiger blows his whistle to signal the start of he match at the famous Maracanã, it will be the first time that two teams have played each other in a World Cup match at the same stadium – even if the surroundings have changed since Spain defeated Chile 2-0 in the 1950 World Cup. It will also be the first time Chile have returned to the stadium after the infamous Maracanzo de Roberto Rojas.
Speaking to the press prior to the game Arturo Vidal made his and Chile’s feelings clear, echoing the pre-tournament views of Gary Medel, ‘we are good enough to win the World Cup’. And to do so La Roja will have to show the continued improvement they have in their previous three outings. However, against Spain they will need to shore more than gradual improvement. A cliché it may be, but Spain will be more fired up than ever following the mauling at the hands of the Netherlands with their philosophy coming under criticism, similar to that Barcelona and Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich had to endure. And for Jorge Sampaoli there will be no change from Chile’s manic football.
Our idea brought us to here and we are not going to modify it. It will be an electrifying game with attractive proposals to the people.
The Argentinian is set to move away from the 4-3-3/4-1-2-1-2 which was used in the 3-1 defeat of Australia to a 3-4-1-2 system aimed to strengthen a defence, wary that Spain will be better in transition than Australia. However, it will not be José Rojas, the squad’s only recognised centre back, to come in but Osasuna midfielder Francisco Silva in place of Jorge Valdivia.
Despite only playing in the role twice, Silva has made an impression on Sampaoli as a libero in the centre of a three man back line. He was untroubled in Chile’s 2-0 win over Northern Ireland, while he was one of the surprises in Chile’s excellent performance against Germany in March when they somehow lost 1-0, all but securing his place on the plane to Brazil.
His inclusion in theory will benefit Chile in more than one phase of play. Defensively, Sampaoli will be wary of the physical threat posed by Diego Costa. An additional defender, and one who has a reasonable physical presence himself, should give greater protection to the Brazil-born striker’s rampaging runs. While it may compromise the Spaniards obdurate philosophy, Vicente Del Bosque would be smart to tell his midfielders to look for Costa quick and with passes behind the defence. Silva should help nullify this threat to an extent. The three centre backs will also help keep the centre of the pitch tight as Spain look to exploit gaps with their nimble foot work and tight passing sequences.
Although not overly well liked by the Chilean public ‘El Gato’ Silva was a good player at the base of Universidad Católica’s midfield where he offered tenacity and safety in possession. He is more than able on the ball in deep positions, giving the team another recognised passer of the ball behind Marcelo Díaz who’ll be able to help influence proceedings higher up the pitch alongside Charles Aránguiz.
He is also capable at stepping into midfield to add greater solidity and an extra body when the team are pressing high up the pitch. It is that ability which has arguably impressed Sampaoli the most – Silva having the intelligence to move between positions.
Further up the pitch Arturo Vidal will likely support the two forward despite not being 100 per cent as he admitted to the press. But he also claimed that his knee is responding well.
It is still a risk for Sampaoli especially after he had so little affect against Australia, clearly of the pace. But the Juventus star is determined to play and if he clicks against Spain he should be able to set the tone for the team to pay at their intensity for longer than the 20 or 30 minutes they did against Australia.
And for La Roja to win they will have to La Roja for the majority of the match as they look for their first win against Spain at the 11th attempt. After their defeat in South Africa four years ago they have been getting closer and they do have Spain scared.
As well as hoping Vidal makes a miraculous return to his best, Sampaoli will also be looking for the under card of Eugenio Mena, Mauricio Isla and Díaz to reach their peak. The wing wizards haven’t been at their buccaneering best, while Díaz is still finding his rhythm in the middle of the park. The presence of Silva will help the Basel midfielder prompt attacks and keep the ball from Spain.
If Chile can keep the ball from Spain. If Chile can run, press and hunt like they did against Australia in the opening 20 minutes. If the defence can stay resolute, La Roja can write a new chapter in their underwhelming history. A chapter that may be just getting started.