Back in 1962 Chile were defeated 4-2 in the semi-finals of the World Cup which they were hosting. In 1998 it was 4-1. Four years ago La Roja fell to a 3-0 defeat. On each occasion their opponents were the same ones they will go head-to-head with on Saturday. Brazil.
El Grafico called the task facing Chile difficult but not impossible. If Chile are to progress to the quarter-final for the first time since the best in the world descended on the Chilean peninsula 52 years ago they will have to record what will likely be the most historic result in their history.
The mood in the camp is one of defiance, this is not a bonus game for Chile now that they have qualified. Despite the disappointing defeat to Netherlands the squad go into the game believing they will add Brazil’s departure to that of Spain’s early return to Madrid.
Some say that we have nothing to lose but the opposite is true, we have the opportunity to make history and we have the ability, the players and the way to damage the opponent – Claudio Bravo
The game is the next in their quest to be world champions. An ambition which they have stated before the tournament and one which was echoed by Alexis Sánchez.
We will win the game, we come to the World to make history, we beat the world champion and although we had a setback with Holland we go looking to win the Cup.
Fighting talk from a team which has only defeated Brazil four times in its history, the last coming 14 years ago. But there is a reason why Chile can go into the game with confidence. And a reason why Luiz Felipe Scolari admitted to wanting La Roja knocked out in the group stages so Brazil didn’t have to face such tricky opponents.
That is what they are. Other teams may cower when facing the best in the world. Drop back to their box, try to put up impenetrable walls and hope for the best. Not Chile. Not a team managed by Jorge Sampaoli.
He has been burning the midnight oil, training the team, watching games, trying to identify the ways in which they can top Brazil but more importantly hurt the hosts. They are more interested in wounding the opposition than preventing themselves from being wounded. Brave, risky . . . tricky opponents.
Sampaoli appears to be swithering between the team which took on Spain and the team which took on Australia. Going by reports in the media Felipe Gutiérrez and Francisco Silva will make way for Arturo Vidal and Jorge Valdivia in what will be a 4-3-3/4-4-2 diamond. This throws up issues defensively but reinvigorates an attack which was blunt against the Dutch.
Brazil have not reached the peaks of last year’s Confederations Cup. A mixture of poor refereeing decisions and poor goalkeeping from Stipe Pletikosa cost Croatia getting at least a point in the opening group game; Mexico stood firm against Brazil thanks to a fine goalkeeping display from Guillermo Ochoa to record a draw; and Cameroon equalised and threatened to take the lead before succumbing to a 4-1 defeat.
They leave space for opponents behind and down the sides of their centre backs, their midfield duo hasn’t clicked, while Fred is a beacon for the lack of quality Brazilian strikers. Journalists and commentators are running out of superlatives or Neymar – he has been the bright spark which has sparked Brazil with four goals.
And, despite the talent of undercard, Oscar, Hulk and Fernandinho who will reaplce Paulinho, it is likely to be the case of stop Neymar and stop Brazil. Which makes the decision to revert to a back four a strange one for Sampaoli to consider. After all, the goals La Roja have conceded have been when they have played with a nominal back four, remember the full-backs push high, rather than a line of three.
A back three would allow Gary Medel to perhaps do a man-marking job on Neymar who has been played centrally at times by Scolari. He has already stood up to both Diego Costa and Arjen Robben. It would then mean Silva and Gonzalo Jara would be able to attempt to keep Fred under wraps.
While Sampaoli has not quite received the performances he would have liked from Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla – he puts the reason down to their inactivity at the end of the season – when they have been given freedom to push forward, the back three gives the team greater solidity with Marcelo Díaz allowed to push on.
Instead it will be on Isla to prevent Neymar from hurting La Roja. A step up in quality will be needed for the Juventus wing-back. He is known to put in his best and most rampaging performances for Chile. He is strong and quick and will be able to stay with Neymar. If he finally comes to the party Chile will have shut down the source of Brazil’s powers.
As for the tributaries, the presence and quality of Sánchez could pin back Marcelo from helping create space for Neymar. If not then it will be crucial the ball is moved quick to El Niño Maravilla before Luis Gustavo can cover, giving Sánchez space of his own.
On the other side there will be an interesting battle between Mena and Dani Alves. Both will be brave and take risks with their positioning. Alves is not the greatest crosser of the ball, while Mena needs to improve on his crossing so far this tournament.
La Roja were able to funnel Spain’s attacks into the centre where they crowded them out. Something similar may happen on Saturday with Hulk and Oscar looking for central positions. Both Arturo Vidal and Charles Aránguiz will be required to be at their combative best as they go up against Luis Gustavo and Fernandinho. The latter will look to drive forward and the former will help cover wide positions.
That should mean space for Jorge Valdivia to operate in but both Thiago Silva and David Luiz are proactive centre-backs, comfortable stepping out and closing down opponents and playing in a high position. It will mean Chile’s two prominent ball-players, Díaz and Valdivia, will have to be swift in possession. This is where the alertness Eduardo Vargas showed in the pre-World Cup warm-ups will be desired.
This game comes down to two words: bravery and risk. The ball and bodies will likely fizz around in central areas as both sides push their defences up. Brazil won’t be afraid to go long, while La Roja will continue to look for rapid interchanges to set up runners behind the Brazil defence.
When Sánchez proclaims that they will win the game and are wanting to win the league you start believing they will and they can. With bravery and risk, Sampaoli’s red tide will give their all to add the tournament hosts to the world champions as the teams dumped out on their way to making history and potentially a final against Argentina.