Early injuries cripple Chile against Argentina
Chile went down 1-2 to a Lionel Messi-led Argentina after being hit by further injuries and suspensions. The absence of Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas, Jorge Valdivia and Charles Aranguíz had already stretched Juan Antonio Pizzi to the limit of his selection but things soon got worse.
Just a few minutes in Matías Fernández was injured in a challenge with Marcos Rojo and was forced off in the sixth minute. In an attempt to keep the 4-2-3-1 structure, Pizzi brought on Francisco Silva and pushed Felipe Gutierréz forwards. This was just about manageable. ‘El Gato’ Silva is an able defensive patroller and Gutierréz quickly showed he has attacking instincts as well as he headed home from a corner to put Chile 1-0 ahead.
But an injury to Marcelo Diaz in the 17th minute was a step too far. Diaz is the man who keeps things ticking over, allowing the rest of the team to flood forward in their kamikaze style, while he guards the backline. Without him the red whirl loses its focus. Just as Diaz was limping, Argentina mounted a rapid counter-attack. Di María played the ball to the edge of the area then burst past the Chile midfield and received the ball to curl it past Claudio Bravo. 1-1.
With Diaz off the field, Chile had lost the last of their regular first-team midfield. Again Pizzi opted to try and maintain his formation by putting on Bryan Rabello in the centre to maintain control of the ball and enable Chile’s surging style but the young midfielder seemed off the pace against a physical Argentinian defence. A few minutes later Lionel Messi took some measure of revenge for being marked out of the Copa América final, wriggling clear in the box to claim a ball from a Di María header and chipping it inside where Gabriel Mercado managed an acrobatic side-volley to put Argentina 1-2 up.
From then on Argentina were content to sit back and hope that in Messi, Aguero and Di María they had enough counter-attacking firepower to pick Chile off. While Argentina didn’t break through again, neither did Chile despite their control of possession. Fabián Orellana was particularly disappointing down the right and he and Mauricio Isla never seemed to co-ordinate their running. Sánchez began to drop deeper and deeper in search of the ball. While the running and passing was of the same intensity as under Sampaoli, the absences left Chile without the same cutting edge.
Finally Pizzi had seen enough and pulled Rabello off after 69 minutes, a shame for the 21 year-old who hadn’t even managed 50 minutes on the pitch. On came Mauricio Pinilla to offer Chile a target man upfront and instantly Chile’s play attacking play seemed more focused. In particular Chile began to work the ball in from the left where Jean Beausejour was an increasing threat. A cross of his landed at the feet of Sánchez who put it wide, then he slipped the ball in behind for Pinilla who could only hit the side-netting.
But time ran out on La Roja who slumped to sixth and outside the potential qualifying spots while Argentina leapfrogged them into the fifth spot which would earn a play-off spot to try and reach World Cup 2018.
Chile must win against Venezuela
Chile’s loss against Argentina leaves them in desperate need of a win when they travel to Venezuela on Tuesday, who have just the 1 point so far in qualifiers. The likelihood against Venezuela is that Pinilla will keep his place while Alexis Sánchez moves out wide. Chilean media suggest that the full-back Eugenio Mena will be the one to lose out, with Jean Beasejour moving back to the full-back slot and Sánchez ahead of him. Fabián Orellana seems likely get another chance on the right.
But the bigger impact will be the return of Arturo Vidal from suspension, where he will lead a combative midfield alongside Silva and Gutierrez. With Sánchez and Vidal running into the spaces left by Pinilla’s physical presence there may be rather more direction to Chile’s attacking play.
Gary Medel and Gonzalo Jara will continue to be the centre-back pairing with Mauricio Isla on the right. Claudio Bravo is now suspended after picking up a silly yellow card against Argentina and will be replaced in goal by Jhonny Herrera. The loss of Diaz and the continued absences of Vargas, Valdivia and Aránguiz mean the match is unlikely to be straightforward for the visitors but Vidal has a habit of rescuing his national side.
The real danger is that desperation leads to indiscipline for a side that has already picked up an alarming number of yellows. Another caution would see any of Sánchez, Medel, Isla or Gutiérrez miss another match at a time when Pizzi needs his best players on the pitch.