Sampaoli’s men full of confidence
Expectations in Chile are as high as they have ever been, and rightly so after La Roja earned praise for their stylish approach to the last World Cup.
The 2010 vintage were the work of highly influential Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa, who took a group of promising young players - semi-finalists in the 2007 World Youth Cup - and stamped his own personality over them.
They pressed high up the pitch, maintained a free-flowing tempo and sought to create two-against-one situations in the wide areas - a legacy that Jorge Sampaoli has revived.
Alexis Sanchez (above) embodies Chile’s transition. Ahead of the Finals in South Africa, Sanchez was a hot prospect with Udinese, and now he is established as one of the world’s best forwards at Barcelona.
In Juventus’ Arturo Vidal, Chile have arguably the most complete midfielder in the world, while Gary Medel has displayed his combative qualities for Cardiff this season.With marauding right back Mauricio Isla, Marcelo Diaz directing the build-up and Eduardo Vargas adding a goal threat,
Chile can be an irresistible spectacle.
But it was almost not to be. Bielsa was always going to be a hard act to follow, as it proved for his successor Claudio Borghi who seemed obsessed with showing his teams could be bolder than Bielsa’s. Going to Argentina with two attacking midfielders playing behind two strikers is an obvious example and the complete lack of balance resulted in a heavy defeat.
Five straight defeats forced him out in late 2012. Sampaoli, emulating Bielsa’s approach, has rekindled what remained.