Chile credentials outlined after Spain shock at World Cup
The blame in Spain fell mainly on… Iker Casillas, but Chile counterpart Claudio Bravo played an understated part in their subsequent victory over Australia. Rumour has it, the 31-year-old Real Sociedad stopper could be brought to Barcelona to provide backup to new number one Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Another Nou Camp star, half-winger half-forward Alexis Sanchez could be surplus to requirements at the Catalan giants, but grabbed the headlines for his country, scoring the opener before making another for Jorge Valdivia. Jean Beausejour came off the bench to round off a comprehensive Chile victory.
If an English audience stayed up late to watch this Group B game, then Sanchez’s diagonal runs will have a familiar feel to them. This movement was used to match-winning effect at Wembley in November. Sanchez has been cut to 20/1 in Coral’s World Cup top scorer market.
Two goals in about as many minutes should have put Chile way beyond an Australian outfit undergoing its biggest transition for a generation, but Jorge Sampaoli’s side do have a weakness. Defending does not come naturally to them.
Sampaoli opted against retaining the services of tall centre back Marcos Gonzalez for this tournament, but the 6ft 3in 34-year-old would certainly have made it more difficult for Tim Cahill. The Socceroos record scorer ran riot in the air, and must have had Everton fans reminiscing and regurgitating that old cliché about a salmon-like leap.
Australia’s work was admirable, never lacking in commitment or endeavour here, but their status as group outsiders was entirely justified on this evidence. Their lack of dynamism and quality will result in them being bottom. Bravo kept out a couple of other efforts from Cahill, but the goal burden will have to be passed to someone else looking to the long-term.
By contrast, the flexible and fluid formation, instilled by Sampaoli’s mentor and predecessor Marcelo Bielsa, of Chile is always eye-catching. Shorn of any natural defenders, their instinct is to attack and there is never a dull moment. Odds of 33/1 say they can go on to win the tournament in Brazil.
Tactically, the South Americans seamlessly switched between a flat back four, with a midfield diamond and a front two that ran the channels and wide, and three defenders with wing backs pushed so far forward even Brazilians would baulk. Crazy, but effective.
Chile are, at times, as direct as you can get in international football. They just charge at opponents and to hell with the consequences. This all-out attack approach placates the fiery temperament of Latin American fans, and is now winning them global fame and acclaim.
If Bielsa and disciple Samapoli have solved a footballing identity crisis in one old Spanish colony, then Vicente del Bosque has to decide whether to stick or twist back in the camp of the World Cup holders. They are now 8/1 to retain their title.
Casillas seems content to fall on his sword. “I wasn’t at the level I needed to be,” he said. “I have to accept all criticism.” There was plenty of that in the Spanish press.
The curtain should fall on an otherwise glittering international career after 155 caps, but here’s hoping flapping at free kicks and that back-pass folly are not the enduring memories of a goalie that has enjoyed an unequalled amount of success.
Win or die was the rallying cry issued by Xavi Hernandez, who may take over the captain’s armband from Casillas, about the tiki-taka style the world witnessed being torn apart by the Netherlands. How wholesale changes will be from Del Bosque remain to be seen, but alterations at centre back will also be clamoured for.
How, and if, Napoli’s Raul Albiol and Bayern Munich anchor Javi Martinez, operating out of position, could do any worse is difficult to see at this stage. The salient point is that Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique’s reputations as untouchable defenders are in ruins.
Something that may have got swept along by the torrent of Louis van Gaal’s latest tactical twist to Total Football is a slight variation in Spanish style. Against the Dutch, early balls were often punted in the direction of Brazilian-born frontman Diego Costa. He is now out to 40/1 to be the World Cup’s top scorer.
Knocking it long in search of a striker is conduct unbecoming of a side that has ruthlessly pursued and prized possession above all else in recent times. Winning a penalty which was converted by Xabi Alonso apart, Costa’s contribution held nothing to suggest Spain should not revert to the ‘false nine’ tactic employed at Euro 2012.
The Group B straight forecast says a combination of the Dutch and Chile is most likely, but which way round? Coral go 6/5 on Van Gaal staying top and the South Americans being runners-up. If Chile were to upset the Netherlands, though, that might let Spain, however shell-shocked they are right now, back in.
Odds of 7/4 on Del Bosque recovering to take second place behind the Clockwork Orange do seem short in this market, given the magnitude of the 5-1 defeat. All eyes will be on how Spain respond and the Chilean-Dutch contest, while it’s 4/1 on Sampaoli sealing top spot and the Netherlands also advancing.