Can Chile capitalise on home advantage to clinch Copa America?
Copa America hosts Chile (4/1 to lift the trophy) have somewhat of a curse to overcome, having failed to lift the coveted South American silverware, despite six previous chances on home soil.
La Roja have a ferocious fanbase to match their current squad’s ferocity on the pitch, and they must utilise their vociferous followers to make the Land of Poets an inhospitable place to play.
After enthralling at the 2014 World Cup before falling to hosts Brazil in penalty shootout pain, this may be adventurous and inventive coach Jorge Sampaoli’s last chance to claim a crown with a squad whose spine is ageing.
However, the master tactician, a scholar of unorthodox predecessor Marcelo Bielsa, clearly disagrees, having selected nine players aged 30 or over for the last friendly loss against the Samba Boys.
“We have a team that doesn’t need urgent renewal, working with youth should be done gradually. This group has what it takes to play in this Copa America and the next one in 2016,” said the talented tactician earlier this season.
Chile, who, alongside the Netherlands, made a flexible 5-3-2 formation all the rage at the World Cup, however, must take advantage of what may be viewed as a vintage La Roja roster in the future.
It is hard to see where the coastal country lack quality and experience. Custodian, captain and most-capped player Claudio Bravo will be protecting the posts, having enjoyed a brilliant debut campaign with Barcelona, including setting a record of 754 minutes without conceding for the club.
Watch the best of Bravo for Barca here:
As for the backline ahead of Bravo, this could prove perhaps the only problem point. Mainz defender Gonzalo Jara and adaptable Inter Milan star Gary Medel are mainstays in the centre back three, though the latter has had an inconsistent season marshalling the San Siro side’s midfield.
At the wing back position, a crucial component in Sampaoli’s intense, all-action, swashbuckling play, Cruzeiro full back Eugenio Mena will likely lockdown the left flank, while Mauricio Isla should retain his spot on the right despite a season of disappointment with QPR.
It is in midfield where Chile boast talent to compete with any on the continent, though Sampaoli will be hoping aggressive Arturo Vidal, who often plays a more attacking role for his nation, is not too tired after a long season with Italian giants Juventus.
Vivacious Vidal certainly gives his all in Chile red and Sampaoli’s intense pressing tactics, whether in variations of a 5-3-2 or a 4-4-2 diamond, rely heavily on the midfield dynamo.
Another Chilean midfielder set to enthral Europe with a potential move this summer, is Charles Aranguiz of Internacional. An apparent Arsenal target, the hardworking general offers endeavour at both ends of the pitch, and the energy the 25-year-old offers should provide an excellent base for veteran playmaker Jorge Valdivia.
The guileful and evergreen attacking midfielder is likely to only be used as an impact sub, though his selection and return to the squad after a brief international retirement has been questioned.
In reply to those queries, Sampaoli simply stated: “Obviously, we haven’t found a player with capabilities similar to Jorge’s, and if we had, he’d be vying with Jorge for the position.”
Up top, exuberant and incisive Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez will be expected to work his magic, and usual partner in crime Eduardo Vargas, who was excellent as the superstar’s foil in Brazil, has also been included in the preliminary squad despite being expected to miss out on the tournament with a ligament injury.
See Sanchez in action for Arsenal:
Should Sampaoli pull off a shock and seek to add more youth and potential to his ranks to replace the sidelined Hoops attacker, he could do worse than include five-capped Angelo Henriquez, who has two strikes from those outings, though it appears unlikely. The Manchester United-owned poacher has struck 25 times across all competitions for Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb, so has a credible claim.
What is certain is that hosts Chile do not lack for power or passion, but must keep composure to transcend their status as favoured dark horses to the formidable force their talent promises they can be.
Chile squad for 2015 Copa America:
Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Barcelona), Paulo Garces (Colo Colo), Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile).
Defenders: Miiko Albornoz (Hannover), Mauricio Isla (Queens Park Rangers), Gonzalo Jara (Mainz), Gary Medel (Inter Milan), Eugenio Mena (Cruzeiro), Jose Rojas (Universidad de Chile).
Midfielders: Charles Aranguiz (Internacional), Jean Beausejour (Colo Colo), Carlos Carmona (Atalanta), Marcelo Diaz (Hamburg), Matias Fernandez (Fiorentina), Felipe Gutierrez (Twente), David Pizarro (Fiorentina), Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras), Arturo Vidal (Juventus).
Forwards: Angelo Henriquez (Dinamo Zagreb), Mauricio Pinilla (Atalanta), Edson Puch (Huracan), Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Eduardo Vargas (Queens Park Rangers).