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Chile can move on with optimism to Copa America challenge

| 18.07.2014

Chile, now positioned 12th in the FIFA rankings, could be forgiven for thinking that fate was against them in the World Cup, as they drew old foes Brazil in the last 16, and made a disappointingly premature exit.
Despite that set-back, however, the South Americans can enjoy the prospect of hosting, and potentially winning, the 2015 Copa America.

Jorge Sampaoli’s spirited side had been in scorching form during the World Cup group stage, sinking Spain and Australia with aplomb, and were unfortunate to lose to the Netherlands in another exciting encounter. They qualified for the first knockout round with ease, and had quickly overtaken Belgium as everyone’s favourite dark horse of the tournament.

Playing slick, exhilarating football on the counter-attack, and pressing furiously when opposition teams had possession, Chile produced some of the most impressive team performances in Brazil.
Then came their crunch clash with the hosts, who have now eliminated their fellow South Americans from four World Cups.

Sure enough, Brazil emerged triumphant after an enthralling game in which Chile often dominated. Julio Cesar proved to be the difference, saving two spot kicks in a tense shootout, but the goal frame also played a part, with Mauricio Pinilla’s extra time attempt rebounding off the crossbar, and a Gonzalo Jara penalty ricocheting off the right post.

Luck always seems to align with the elite, but Chile should view it as fortune favouring the brave. If they continue to dazzle, regardless of their more modest history when compared to their South American peers, they must begin to view themselves as equals.

With a clear style and philosophy already in place, keeping hold of coach Sampaoli is key to future silverware success. A student of predecessor Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentine has continued his compatriot’s focus on energetic, high-pressing football, in an adaptable 3-4-3 formation.

Moving forward, Chile possess all the ingredients to thrill their country with an unprecedented triumph. Securing their first Copa America crown, on home soil no less, would be a magnificent springboard for the 2018 World Cup, when their top stars should still be competitive.

With the added experience and motivation provided by their recent penalty pain, compounded by bitter rivals Brazil’s subsequent collapse, La Roja can become fearsome competitors.

Their fervent fan base, as witnessed in Brazil, can make all the difference. The omens are excellent for the Copa America, with Chile’s most successful side to date enjoying their best-ever finish at a World Cup in 1962, when they hosted the tournament and ranked third.

As for the brilliant individuals in Sampaoli’s squad, many should still be in contention to take part in the Copa America, with much relying on Arturo Vidal’s fitness. Arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in Europe, the dominating midfielder played on, despite concerns over his knee, and should still be at his peak for the next few years.

Electrifying new Arsenal attacker Alexis Sanchez, was also one of the stars of the tournament and, following his summer switch from Barcelona to the Gunners, may thrive away from the imposing shadow of Lionel Messi.

Linked with a move to Italian giants Inter Milan, tenacious defensive midfielder Gary Medel could also benefit from a change of scenery. Currently plying his trade with recently relegated Cardiff City, swapping the Welsh capital for the Nerazzurri could allow Medel to gain experience competing for trophies and a Champions League spot.

After impressing as a no-nonsense, ball-playing centre back for Chile, the tempestuous star could potentially slot seamlessly into Walter Mazzarri’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, providing him with further experience in the heart of defence.
Sampaoli will also have to hope that rampant Juventus right back Mauricio Isla, and Napoli forward Eduardo Vargas, who was farmed out on loan last term, get plenty of game time for their respective Serie A clubs.

Manchester United forward Angelo Henriquez is one youngster who Sampaoli may benefit from incorporating into the squad. The striker has netted twice in 3 senior caps for his nation, and has an incredible record for the under-20’s, with 21 goals in 17 appearances.

Sevilla starlet Bryan Rabello is another who may be blooded ahead of the Copa America. The 20-year old attacking midfielder has two caps already, and could replace ageing playmaker Jorge Valdivia, 30, in the squad. Chile’s current creative hub had a stop-start tournament due to injury, and is rumoured to be on the verge of a move to United Arab Emirate’s club Al Fujairah.

South American rivals Brazil and Argentina will likely be rebuilding and attempting to lessen their dependence on their respective talismans Neymar and Lionel Messi. This provides Sampaoli’s squad with a tremendous opportunity.

At 50/1 to win the 2018 World Cup, Chile can draw first blood at the Copa America, with the chance to gather momentum, and further improve team chemistry in what is an already well-oiled machine. The next few years can be La Roja’s chance to shine, as they look to finally step out of the shadow of their more illustrious neighbours.



Holly Thackeray

Holly is a member of the content team, and can often be found on the sports desk writing about favourite topics Serie A and East Asian footballing nations. A recent darts convert, she is also a fully-fledged member of Barney's Army and a proud Leeds-born Manchester United fan.