Chile scrapped their way past a Bolivian side, who can feel pained not to have picked up at least a point, thanks to goals late in each half by Charles Aránguiz and Arturo Vidal, in what was the fifth qualifying match for Brazil 2014.
The outcome was exactly what La Roja were looking for after the two comprehensive away defeats previously to Argentina and Uruguay and lifts them into second place behind Argentina in the qualifying standings. However the means in achieving the victory were not what football fans across the globe have come to expect from Chile.
A more clinical opponent in a match officiated by a competent referee could easily have resulted in Chile’s third defeat of the World Cup qualifying, leaving an uphill task for Claudio ‘Bichi’ Borghi’s side. But with Arturo Vidal back in the heart of the midfield La Roja huffed and puffed, scrapped and fought and eventually won through thanks in no part to the determination affirmed by the two goals scored from midfield.
With a trip to face Venezuela on Saturday here are some key points from the game:
A better start is a must as La Roja struggled throughout
Chile were very rarely at their best throughout the 90 minutes even when Bolivia were harshly reduced to ten men with the sending off of Luis Gutiérrez; the first 20 minutes in particular below-par.
First thing’s first. The players need to have a firmer idea of their individual roles. Eugenio Mena, so often with the freedom to gallop up and down the left flank for Universidad de Chile, seemed tentative in going forward often encountering Alexis Sánchez and Matías Fernández; both players at times occupying Mena’s space to the point Mena and one of the other two were on top of each other. A situation fixed as both forward players roamed more centrally and deeper allowing the left-wing back to venture forward.
There was also the poor distribution from a number of players but most importantly from the centre of midfield as Marcelo Díaz and Arturo Vidal often miscalculated ambitious long passes/switches of play rather than shorter, sharper passes out wide or into Fernández and Sánchez.
The careless passing saw Chile hand Bolivia cheap possession. The seconds after losing possession is when Chile is most vulnerable and the home side looked to take advantage. If you have read this blogs’ articles on Universidad de Chile you will recognize some of the defensive problems about to be mentioned. Direct and longer passes into the flanks and behind the back three, often pushed high, caused an abundance of problems, as did the quality from set-pieces.
With 11 players Bolivia pressed aggressively in midfield which played a significant part in Chile ceding possession in dangerous areas, leaving them exposed defensively. The higher of the two central midfielders Alejandro Chumacero was adept at switching the play especially out to the Bolivians left where there was the out-of-form Osvaldo González at right centre-back and Aránguiz playing the right-midfield-cum-wing-back role which is not his best position.
Bolivia had at least five clear goal scoring opportunities they did not have to work for. Simple, longer, direct passes was all that was needed.
Altitude was a factor with the Chileans pressing game. There was little pressure on the Bolivians defenders when they had the ball which gave them enough time to measure long and lofted ball out wide to Jhasmani Campos and Juan Arce or over the top for Pablo Escobar and Ricardo Pedriel.
Bravo! A cow would have been better than Vaca
It seems every time a Chilean squad is announced La U goalkeeper Jhonny Herrera has an opinion. Often overlooked – because of those ‘opinions’ – it was clear to see on Saturday why he would not see much playing time. In Claudio Bravo Chile arguably have the best South American goalkeeper.
With the game at 0-0 La Roja’s captain made two crucial saves; first with his feet to thwart Escobar who had been played through then an even better save to deny Campos at the back post.
Compare him to Daniel Vaca in the Bolivian goal and you could almost say that’s where the difference lied. Vaca was not at fault for either goal but throughout the game portrayed nervousness in his handling and indecisiveness in dealing with crosses and commanding his box.
The selection of Vaca was surprising with the usual number one Carlos Arias not included in the squad.
But with a team that play expansive and open football with their defence urged to push higher up the pitch it is vital to have a solid, commanding and confident goalkeeper. In Claudio Bravo Chile would struggle to find better.
There were brief flashes of an understanding that hints at fluidity, excitement, panache and devilment between Sánchez, Fernández and Humberto Suazo.
The first two have been mentioned already. Despite struggling to find that end product both players highlighted their quality with twists and turns, feints and tricks. Yet the remaining player of the trio, Humberto Suazo, has come in for criticism from certain sections with calls for him to be dropped. The Monterrey striker has a reputation has a lethal finisher for the national team but has scored only 3 goals in his last 16 outings for Chile (he scored 8 in the 14 before that).
However all suggestions that he should take a seat on the bench have been batted away by ‘Bichi’ who has the utmost confidence in the portly striker; Suazo further endearing himself to his manager by coming in to train on his day off while others enjoyed the Santiago nightlife (more on that later).
The worrying thing for Suazo is that he isn’t getting into scoring positions. The old cliché goes that as long as you’re in position and getting chances goals will follow. But it is not the case for ‘Chupete’.
The Chilean danger was from deeper – whether it was the midfield or supporting forwards.
There was promise in some of his approach play and relationship with the aforementioned players. Away from the box he was neat and tidy on the occasions Chile threatened on the counter-attack.
With a bright, albeit brief, cameo from Eduardo Vargas there could have been reasoning to start the Napoli man, even with his lack of game time at club level. But with the player being sent home (again more on that later) ‘Chupete’ will continue and don’t be surprised to see him silence the doubters with a clinical first time finish.
Aránguiz and Vidal’s science lesson
Saturday saw the early return of Arturo Vidal to La Roja after the ‘Bautizazo’ scandal. Vidal had enjoyed a stunning first season at Juventus, capping it with a Serie A title but failed to replicate the form he showed in the run-in of the season against Bolivia despite a goal to wrap up the victory.
He was not at his dominating, engineering best while his passing was wayward and far from crisp. If you had witnessed him playing under Antonio Conte he was a ferocious beast working every blade of grass in tandem with Claudio Marchisio. And there is no debate that he is at his very best for the national team with Gary Medel beside him. There wasn’t the same chemistry with Marcelo Díaz.
While Charles Aránguiz, who does have chemistry with Díaz, was stationed in the right midfield position. A position he can play but not as effectively as in the middle. In the middle he offers energy, thrust and a link between midfield and attack. He naturally drifts right but from a central position where he sprung forward to score (something he should do more of). It seemed Borghi was trying to fit the best players into a system rather than selecting the players most adept at playing certain positions.
And now for Venezuela after yet another off-field detour
Before we briefly look ahead to the Venezuela game off-field issues surrounding the Chilean players has reared its ugly head again. I’ve left this until last as, like Borghi feels, it is getting all too boring discussing Chilean players’ late night exertions. Last year it was the ‘Bautizazo’ scandal where five players were punished for arriving late back to the team’s base. Now Gary Medel and Eduardo Vargas have been sent home and replaced by Colo Colo’s Bryan Rabello and Universidad Católica’s Nicolás Castillo.
The players had been given the day of on Wednesday and as many went out for a quiet meal or rested Medel and Vargas were snapped coming out of a nightclub at 4am. It was not seen as a terrible incident but with Medel recovering from a back injury the coaching staff were dismayed at his lack of professionalism while it was compromised that Vargas would head home after playing in Diego Rivarola’s testimonial.
After breaking the trust of the team it was decided that they should be reprimanded.
(If you want to read up on many of the ‘scandals’ and players involved that have plagued Chile’s national get-together’s look no further than these two pieces: (1) http://t.co/mz09cSCD (2) http://t.co/BFKEuyq5 )
Anyway, Chile travel to Puerto La Cruz to face a Venezuelan side that recorded a 1-1 draw away at Uruguay.
It is expected that the same eleven that started in Bolivia will start this weekend. The only doubt remains around Matí Fernández who will be replaced by Cristóbal Jorquera if deemed unfit.
One adjustment that I would make would be to link Díaz and Aránguiz up in the middle of the park and have Arturo Vidal as the right-sided midfielder, covering the flank. It has been noted by more accomplished writers than myself but the importance of partnerships and relationships in the international game is prominent. Think the Bayern Munich players and Germany, Barcelona and Spain and so on. Chile can do that with the Universidad de Chile players.
Díaz and Aránguiz have shown time and again in the last year or so that they have a fine understanding and if Chile can get Díaz in space, deeper there football will become more fluid and easier on the eye while keeping possession more than they have done.
The concern from the Venezuelans is their physical presence, namely Malaga’s Rondón coupled with the expert deliveries from Juan Arango. Chile will again have to battle and if their pressing game is back to its rampant best they can feel confident of a result.
A draw will suffice for La Roja and with four away games already played put them in a strong position to finish in one of the top four positions.