Chileans are gearing up for this month’s World Cup in Brazil and expectations have rocketed for ‘La Roja’ as a result of a successful World Cup qualification campaign. Attacking, attractive soccer under the guidance of Chilean Jorge Sampaoli has endeared both manager and players to the nation.
Hopes remain high of Chile reaching the knockout stages of the World Cup despite being drawn in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside Spain, Holland and Australia. This is testament to the way in which Sampaoli has moulded his current crop of players into a free flowing, counter-attacking team, playing compelling soccer — as was witnessed during ‘La Roja’s’ road to the World Cup against the likes of Ecuador and Uruguay.
Last week Sampaoli cut his squad to the final 23 men who will represent Chile in Brazil with the first game against Australia on June 13 drawing ever nearer. A knee injury to key midfielder Arturo Vidal and a chronic tendinitis problem for starting left-back Eugenio Mena has given the manager a slight headache but both are expected to feature for the start of the campaign, even if only 75 percent fit. As always, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas will lead the line after combining brilliantly against Egypt during a friendly at the end of May.
The fact that Chile’s first game is against an un-fancied Australian side at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá does offer some respite and ‘La Roja’s’ brand of fluid soccer — which helped them to finish third in the South American group following a 2-1 win over Ecuador — is expected to overcome the ‘Socceroos.’
2010 finalists, Holland and Spain — the eventual winners — will prove sterner tests although Chile’s record against the latter has been impressive in recent years. Following a 2-1 loss in the 2010 World Cup’s group stages, the South Americans came within a whisker of defeating “La Furia” in a friendly earlier this year, eventually drawing 2-2 after a late Jesús Navas equalizer. However, the way in which Chile played during World Cup qualification suggests results against those in the same group are no foregone conclusion — wins over Holland and Spain would not raise too many eyebrows.
‘La Roja’s’ last warm up game against Northern Ireland in Valparaíso on June 5 was sealed by two late goals from Vargas and Mauricio Pinilla. The goalscorers started on the bench, along with talisman Sanchez, but Chile eventually triumphed and are charging into the World Cup on the back of a 2-0 win.
Looking to cheer on La Roja? Here is their World Cup Schedule so far:
June 13, 5pm — Chile vs. Australia, Rio de Janeiro
June 18, 3pm — Chile vs. Spain, Rio de Janeiro
June 23, 12am — Chile vs. Holland, São Paulo