Chile are hosts and one of the favourites for the Copa America 2015, with a seeming golden generation and having prepared more thoroughly than any of their opponents to try and win the Copa for the first time in their history.
Here’s the first part of a squad preview, concentrating on their key players whose performances will likely define their campaign.
The stars – Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal
There’s a reason why Chile is talking about a golden generation and their best ever side, and these two are basically it. It’s very rare for Chile to have even one player at the top of the European game, but in Sanchez and Vidal they have two. Both need to be at their best if Chile are to win.
Sanchez is coming off the back of a huge personal success in his first season at Arsenal – 24 goals, FA Cup Winner and Fans’ Player of the Year. For Arsenal he plays as a wide attacker, but for Chile he tends to be more central where he supplies and scores. He’s always been prolific for the national side and is central to all of Chile’s attacking play, where he creates space for the rest of their front-line with his runs. However his desire to be everywhere on the pitch can lead him to drop too deep and is a sign of when the team is struggling.
Vidal is often described as the best all-round midfielder in the world, and when at his best, his box-to-box running defines Chile’s high-pressing style. He’s coming off another successful season with Serie A champions Juventus, even if his performance in the Champions League final against Barcelona was one to forget. Not fully fit in the 2014 World Cup, he will be a key attacking threat behind Sanchez, making runs into the box while also pressuring the opposition high up the pitch. On the other hand, as in the Champions League final, his aggression can get the best of him.
Best of the rest – Jorge Valdivia, Gary Medel and Claudio Bravo
Chile will need more than just their stars, and these three can provide what have often been the missing ingredients, attacking creativity and defensive discipline.
Jorge Valdivia, nicknamed “El Mago” – The Wizard – has had a chequered career with the national side, discipline problems and a lack of physical fitness often seeing him sit on the sidelines under Sampaoli’s regime. But Chile have struggled in the past to create goalscoring opportunities and Valdivia could be the solution. He can set Sanchez free to go forward, being by far the most creative passer in the Chilean side and a handy goalscorer himself, netting the only goal of the 1-0 victory over El Salvador in the last friendly before the competition. Question marks will hang over his fitness levels and if Chile can afford the luxury of him on the pitch, but he has been in good shape with Brazilian side Palmeiras and offers something none of the other Chilean midfielders can.
Gary “The Pitbull” Medel meanwhile has no problems whatsoever getting into the team, and Sampaoli will wish he had at least two more just like him. Naturally he’s a tough-tackling defensive midfielder as he plays for Inter Milan. For the national side he has to drop back into defense, where Chile lack quality players and his leadership is crucial in that shaky area, often covering for his colleagues as the central man in a three-man defence. Unfortunately his 1.71m height can leave him exposed in the air.
That weakness and the others of the Chilean defence are what make Claudio Bravo, the Chilean goalkeeper, so important. He is the captain of the team and provides a steadying influence at the back. His confidence should be sky-high after playing every minute of Barcelona’s winning campaign in La Liga, letting in only 19 goals in 37 games. He tends towards the “sweeper-keeper” style made so famous by Manuel Neuer and builds distribution from the back, but he can’t afford to make any mistakes with Chile’s tendency to press high, play with a three-defence and their lack of height combining to make his job a tricky one at times.
Adam Clark is an English teacher and football blogger currently residing in Concepción, Chile. He’s a helpless fan of Aston Villa and has a benevolent interest in Universidad de Concepción. He spends too much time trying to condense tactical analysis to 140 characters on Twitter as @AdamClarkers.