Manager: Claudio Borghi
Group: C (with Uruguay, Mexico and Peru)
Copa America title betting odds: 11/1
Qualifying for quarter-finals odds: 3/100
Group winner odds: 11/10
Finishing in the top two in group odds: 9/50
Copa America 2007 performance: Quarter-finals
Best Copa America performance: Runners-up (1955, 1956, 1979, 1987)
How are they shaping up?
Chile arrive in Argentina for the Copa America on an eight-match unbeaten run stretching back to last September, when they were defeated 2-1 by Ukraine in Kiev. They have claimed a number of notable scalps in that time, including Colombia, Estonia and Group C opponents Uruguay, while also picking up creditable away draws against USA, Portugal and Paraguay. La Roja also won the hearts of neutrals in their run to the last 16 at last year’s World Cup for their adventurous tactics and free-flowing passing style in a tournament largely dominated by caution.
There was uproar in Chile when charismatic coach Marcelo Bielsa made good on a promise to quit if Jorge Segovia was elected as the new president of the country’s FA. Although the controversial vote has since been annulled, it was too little, too late for Bielsa, who departed in February. It is difficult to say how this has affected Chile’s preparations for the Copa America, but the disappointment for their fans is that he appeared to be building something special around a crop of young, talented players.
Bielsa always carried a ‘madman’ reputation, but at least his successor will not disappoint on that front – Borghi is always good for a soundbite. His squad selection also suggests that he recognises the value of continuity, so expect Chile to line up again in a buccaneering 3-3-1-3 formation, with an emphasis on quick tempo and overloading down the flanks. As the man himself put it in one of his many legendary quotes: “I’m not going to start calling up players with three ears just to set myself apart from Bielsa.”
Fans of betting on the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying section will know that Chile picked up more away wins than any other team on their road to South Africa, including successes over Paraguay and Colombia – so the trip to Argentina should not hold too many fears for them. Their attacking philosophy means that there should be plenty of goals flying in at both ends in their matches. And with talents such as Alexis Sanchez, Humberto Suazo, Matias Fernandez and Jorge Valdivia at their disposal, it would be no surprise to see them have a great tournament.
Caps: 36 Goals: 13
Suazo is a crucial component of how Chile play and his fitness issues at the World Cup probably prevented them from going further. The 30-year-old was the top South American scorer in qualifying for the tournament and could be the man to watch in Argentina. Although they have been deprived of mercurial Palermo striker Mauricio Pinilla because of injury, there will be plenty of prompting from midfield by the likes of Fernandez, Valdivia, Luis Jimenez and Carlos Carmona, with the versatile Gary Medel, Arturo Vidal and Mauricio Isla splitting their defensive duties with timely raids forward.
However, there is only one man who everyone will be watching at the Copa America and that is Sanchez. He dazzled at the World Cup and was similarly impressive in helping to guide Udinese to fourth place in Serie A, which brought Champions League qualification for the modest club from northern Italy. His performances have attracted the attention of a host of top clubs, including European champions Barcelona, who are reportedly ready to part with around £30 million to secure his services.
Borghi, for one, is salivating at the prospect, suggesting that playing in the same team as Lionel Messi will enable Sanchez to “end up being better” than the World Player of the Year. It is some claim, but I’m expecting the 22-year-old to light up the tournament with his explosive wing play and it should be enthralling to witness.
Chile are certainly long overdue some success at the Copa America, having never lifted the trophy and only reached the semi-finals once in the past 20 years. With Peru looking beatable and an already under-strength Mexico in disarray after sending eight players home for alleged dalliances with prostitutes, La Roja will surely finish in the top two in Group C.
Much will be made of their clash with World Cup semi-finalists Uruguay, who they put to the sword 2-0 in the friendly mentioned earlier. However, the good news for Chile is that regardless of whether they finish first or second, they will avoid Argentina and Brazil in the last eight, assuming the two superpowers win their respective groups.
Likely quarter-final opponents of the calibre of Colombia or Paraguay will not fill them will apprehension and if they can negotiate that particular test, suddenly anything will seem possible for Borghi’s men. I’m expecting them to make the last four, but one thing is for sure – watching Chile at the Copa America certainly won’t be dull.
Verdict: Eliminated in semi-finals
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