Chile followed suit of their previous pair of qualifying matches, recovering from a thumping away loss to win by a two goal margin in Santiago. However last nights match was unlike the previous home win against Peru, the game following a simple pattern; attack (Chile) v defence (Paraguay) in the first 45 minutes, Chile score with one of the few first half chances, Paraguay open up in the second half and put Chile under pressure, Chile seal win with a late counter-attacking goal.
The game saw little incident and one can only imagine Claudio ‘Bichi’ Borghi was ecstatic that was the case, La Roja keeping their first clean-sheet in eight games.
Two changes were made from the 4-0 hammering at the hands of Uruguay on Friday as Marcelo Díaz and Matías Campos Toro made way for Charles Aránguiz and the return of Alexis Sánchez. There was also an alteration in formation, 3-4-1-2 became 3-3-1-3. Sánchez and Eduardo Vargas were stationed wide of Humberto Suazo while Aránguiz played narrow on the left-hand side of midfield.
As for Paraguay they set up in a defensive 4-4-1-1 formation, making four changes from Friday’s 2-1 home win over Ecuador – Paulo da Silva, Victor Cáceres, Richard Ortiz and Lucas Barrios were replaced by Julio Manzur, Miguel Samudio, Sergio Aqunio and Julio Dos Santos. Rubin Kazan’s Nelson Haedo Valdez played the lone striker role, tasked with keeping Chile’s three centre-backs busy. He was supported by the deeper Dos Santos and Marcelo Estigarribia who was given allowance to venture forward from the left, but the team’s main task was out of possession to sit deep and get men behind the ball.
In categorising the first half it can go down as uneventful. Neither goalkeeper was overly tested, with much of the play taking play just inside the Paraguay half. The way La Roja lined up it forced Paraguay to defend deeper, not committing too many players beyond the ball. It would have taken a brave team or a team with an abundance of quality to have opened up from the start against Chile; this way suited the Paraguay set-up.
The full-backs stayed in position, not getting forward, retaining an extra man at the back with Chile’s three forwards. Reinforcing the defence was a tight and deep midfield four (sometimes three or five depending on Dos Santos and Estigarribia). Both Sánchez and Vargas were often crowded out when coming from wide to create link-ups or look to get on the end of threaded through balls – throughout the game they often switched sides. Sánchez only managed to create an opening once in the first half, gliding past two players after collecting the ball on the left touchline but his shot was beaten away by Diego Barreto in the Paraguay goal.
Suazo is mostly ineffectual when the ball isn’t played into him in the box. When collecting the ball outside the box his link-up play can be laboured and does not have the quality to twist and turn past players when his back’s to goal. A more useful striker would have been Colo-Colo’s Esteban Paredes. Very adept on the ball and like Luis Suarez (apologies if I have brought back painful memories from Friday) he is good at turning defenders who are close to him and putting defences on the back foot in tight spaces.
Paraguay’s deep midfield forced Matías Fernandez deeper and deeper, his best work happening too far from the Paraguay goal. However he was able to bring Mauricio Isla into play time and time again. The Udinese wing-back/winger (he’s even played in the centre of midfield this season) was La Roja’s biggest threat. Maintaining width he made a number of forceful runs into the space vacated by Sánchez/Vargas on the right in an attempt to stretch the ‘La Albirroja’. However in the final third there was no quick interplay in the spaces, Isla was forced to cross the ball and in the end he was often blocked off from crossing; when he did deliver there was no one with the aerial threat to compete.
As an attacking threat Paraguay were cautious. They very rarely pressed the ball in Chile’s half, wingers only advancing to close down if the ball came into their ‘zone’. Instead they looked to Juventus left-winger Marcelo Estigarribia to exploit the space in behind Mauricio Isla which would bring across the slow Marcos González – on the left-side for Chile the right-footed Charles Aránguiz naturally played narrow. Estigarribia v Isla was an interesting battle, the Paraguay attacker not worrying about his Serie A counterpart too much but like Isla when crossing he had little to aim at.
After Friday’s horror show it was obvious that the best way for Chile to defend was to keep the ball as far away from the defence as possible. And in the main they did just that. Aránguiz played conservatively on the left, helping out Gary Medel, who kept Dos Santos quiet, in the centre of midfield. There was no need to worry about Medel being out numbered in midfield with Paraguay’s midfield two sitting deep. The defensive line-up dealt easily with Valdez and the sporadic supporting runs.
Even with the goal coming before the half-hour mark the away side were content to hold it at that until half-time.
The goal itself was very un-Chile. Fernandez had already brought the best out of Barreto with a fierce in-swinging free-kick and from the resulting free-kick Pablo Contreras powered home a header from the edge of the six yard box. A simple case of Contreras wanting it more than those around him.
You could tell instantly at the start of the second half that the second period would be a different affair to the first. Paraguay showed more attacking intent in the first five minutes than they had done in the whole of the first 45.
Hernán Pérez came on for Carlos Bonet at right-back and immediately he and left-back Samudio were give more freedom to advance from their full-back positions to support the midfield and attack. With the full-backs pushing on it brought the rest of the team higher up the pitch meaning Paraguay were able to put more pressure on the ball.
It could be seen that Chile were running low on confidence as they backed off, allowing their opponents to flood the box with cross, a lot of which were coming from deeper, rather than the by-line. On a number of occasions Bravo elected to punch rather than catch the ball, obviously not taking any chances after the mistake in Uruguay.
Chile weathered the initial storm with resolute defending and decisive goalkeeping, and hitting Paraguay on the counter-attack Suazo could have doubled the lead (if he had should more awareness moments later Sánchez would have been in for a sure-fire second).
The game was much more open which you can only expect with Paraguay pushing extra players forward and Chile a very dangerous proposition on the counter.
‘La Albirroja’ enjoyed more possession in the second half however they could not exploit Chile in the same way Uruguay had. Of course they did not have the quality of Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Gaston Ramirez but they seemed to have only one plan; direct, direct, direct. It was strange that with so many balls being played into the Chile box Francisco Arce waited until 15 minutes from time to introduce Oscar Cardozo, taking off winger Estigaribbia and moving to a basic 4-4-2. Moments before Bravo had made a flying save to stop a Valdez header from a free-kick.
The longer the game went on the more direct Paraguay aimed, thinking that with Chile’s inability in the air chances would come. And it finally looked to have come five minutes from time. Bravo rushed out of goal, completely missed a cross but with two Paraguayans ready to add the finishing touch substitute Campos Toro stuck out a leg and cleared before the ball crossed the line.
From hero at one end to hero at the other Campos Toro put the game to bed. Having defended everything that was thrown at them Chile scored on the break. Sánchez, picking up the ball darted at the Paraguay defence, committing defenders before sliding in Isla on the right. Isla, who had a very quiet second half drove into the box, cut back for Toro who saw his effort wickedly deflect back the way it came and drop into the top corner.
The goal summed up the danger Chile posses on the break when given the space, especially with Sánchez, who has electrifying pace with and without the ball, in the team.
It wasn’t an enthralling encounter at which we have come to expect when Chile are involved. La Roja set-up in a positive fashion against a tough, defensive unit. With the lead they did not go gung-ho, instead weathering a direct bombardment from Paraguay, sealing a crucial victory on the break. ‘Bichi’ should be pleased to show that Chile do have another side to their game and are capable of dealing with pressure and keeping clean sheets.
With six points Chile have made their best start since World Cup qualification has been decided using the home-and-away league system, showing how important home form is in the South American qualifiers. So far of the 16 games played there has been 11 home wins.
Next up for Chile is an away double header against Bolivia and Venezuela in June. Borghi will be hoping all the focus is on events on the pitch.