How an Unconventional Chile Team Became the World Cup’s Surprise Package

Enter Sampaoli

The former Universidad de Chile manager was one of the most successful South American coaches of that time and he saw that two things were needed: (1) have the leaders return and (2) play like Bielsa had them. Sampaoli is a Bielsa apostle in his passion and has his obsessive attention to even the most minute detail.

His arrival led to a change in attitude as well as the return to the squad of players like Vidal as well Carlos Carmona, Jean Beausejour, Gonzalo Jara and Jorge Valdivia. He reacquired control of the squad and also got the players — most of them part of the 2010 World Cup side — to regain the essence of his and their “Inner Bielsa.”

Once that occurred, the squad went on a roll obtaining 16 out of a possible 18 points in qualifying and ending up in third place behind Argentina and Colombia. Chile’s play was high-intensity under Sampaoli and his offense was high-powered. Chile outscored their opponents in that stretch 17-6.  What makes that point even more impressive was that three of those goals were scored by Colombia in that thriller in Barranquilla in October of last year.

The defense no longer left spaces between the midfield. Although to many, that seems borderline suicidal. There is however logic to this madness. When there was a separation in the backline of three from the midfield, this left them exposed to what the opposition wanted to do offensively. It gave them room to operate.

This is why they were being decimated when Borghi was coach as matchups and numbers did not favor him once his shortcomings were being exploited.

There was that susceptibility of seeing a team play a ball over their heads, but the defense had the collective speed to recover. Speaking of over their heads, Chile was also looked at as a team that could be taken advantage of in set pieces with a backline whose tallest player stands at a towering 5’9”.

Nottingham Forest’s Gonzalo Jara quickly debunked that theory saying that he defended players six inches taller than him and was still able to hold his own. Save for Tim Cahill’s goal in Cuiabá, those “short Chileans” held their own, being able to neutralize heavy hitter like Sergio Ramos with good positioning on the ground and also the support of Claudio Bravo coming out very well on the crosses.

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