It has been a while since we discussed Chile on here, but when we do there are usually off-field matters to talk about first, taking focus away from crucial World Cup qualifying matches. And once again it is no different as La Roja prepares for the upcoming double header; away to Ecuador on Friday and Tuesday’s home match with Argentina.
Only this time Claudio ‘Bichi’ Borghi has had to contend with more than one problem. Firstly, he won’t be on the sidelines in Ecuador or Santiago. A four-match FIFA ban – reduced from five – means that assistant Jamie Vera will take charge from the touchline.
Borghi was given a suspension due to a confrontation with the Colombian officials in Chile’s 2-0 away victory against Venezuela that saw the coach sent to the stands. It was reported that Borghi used ‘racist’ language. A claim Borghi has vehemently denied; Borghi is very likely to be telling the truth, shown by FIFA’s reduced sentence and recent documents that shed light on the incident. Borghi’s only offence seems to be using overly aggressive language towards the fourth official.
If that wasn’t bad enough Borghi has had to continually state his relationship with two of the country’s more controversial characters: Universidad de Chile goalkeeper Johnny Herrea and Jorge Valdivia of Palmeiras.
Due to Claudio Bravo’s injury there was increasing calls for Herrera to be called into the national team on the account of him being one of the best goalkeepers in South America. However, *prepare for an understatement* Herrera has never seen eye-to-eye with Borghi, continually sniping about the coach’s lack of objectivity in his selections. As list of comments between the two can be viewed at Ferplei.com.
As for Valdivia, he is the only player that was involved in the “Bautizazo” ‘scandal’ yet to be called back into the national set-up. Valdivia, one of Chile’s most gifted players, announced last week that he is craving a return to La Roja. This prompted a back-and-forth in the media where Valdivia felt Borghi had ‘closed the doors’ on a return. Borghi, arguably Valdivia’s biggest fan, rejected that idea, saying the only person to have ‘closed the doors’ on a return to La Selección was Valdivia himself; possibly referring to the aftermath of the “Bautizazo” where Valdivia refused to apologise, accusing Borghi of lying.
As we move closer to talking about matters on the field the national team has been affected with numerous injuries. Striker Humberto Suazo and captain and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo were early absentees, but the list of two has grown further with Mauricio Pinilla and the Universidad de Chile trio of José Rojas, Charles Aránguiz and Eugenio Mena all having to pull out through injury.
The idea that Claudio Borghi and Jorge Sampaoli have a strained relationship resurfaced; a microcosm of the poor relationship between Universidad de Chile and the ANFP. Borghi immediately dismissed the notion, simply stating that the pair have no relationship. Medical reports of the three players were sent to the doctors of the national team as clarification.
The call-offs meant opportunities for some new – and old – faces. Four goalkeepers were called up, including a return to the national side for Nicolás Peric and Francisco Prieto. Colo Colo’s Prieto was joined by Colo Colo team-mate’s Christian Vilches, who’ll be looking to add to his solitary cap, and 33-year-old Álvaro Ormeño.
CSKA Moscow’s Mark González gets his first call-up since a long injury lay-off while Manuel Iturra’s return caps a fine few months for the midfielder having been signed by Malaga and he’s already starring in the Champions League.
Two players will be looking to win their first cap: O’Higgins’ energetic right, Yerson Opazo and Manchester United’s Ángelo Henríquez, promoted from the under-20 side.
As always, when national teams meet up, there has been plenty of debate about a change of formation or the personnel within the formation: Who will play in goals? Will it be back three or back four? Where will Arturo Vidal play? Mark González or Jean Beausejour? Eduardo Vargas or Sebastián Pinto? How will the squad deal with the altitude in Quito?
- Miguel Pinto is the Chile number two so will start ahead of Cristopher Toselli in Bravo’s absence.
- With Rojas missing the defence does not have much pace so moving to a back-four could be the sensible move. However the team seems set in its ways playing with a back-three so expect Pablo Contreras to play as a sweeper. West Bromich Albion’s Gonzalo Jara plays instead of veteran Marcos González giving the defence extra mobility against quick opponents.
- Borghi mentioned Vidal’s quality in various positions and the possibility of the Juventus star playing in the backline, but the team would then miss his boundless energy in the midfield (they are already missing Gary Medel through suspension); an important asset with the altitude and especially if he is playing alongside Marcelo Díaz, who can focus on getting into space to receive the ball and try to dictate the pace of the game. Vidal and Díaz will be joined by Felipe Seymour in the centre of midfield giving the team extra protection in the middle of midfield as the counter-attack takes on even more importance. Vidal is key in supporting Fernandez and Sánchez.
- There is no doubting González’s quality but he is still reaching peak shape, and Beausejour offers more in the defensive phase of the game; not to mention he plays in that position each week for Wigan. With an attacker sacrificed for an extra midfielder there is a better case for González’s inclusion but the points made still stand for Beausejour to start.
- There are arguments to be made for both; Pinto to start and act as a focal point in attack and hold the ball up with Vargas offering quality and extra energy from the bench. It sounds the most sensible plan, but I feel Borghi will go with the more talented Vargas alongside Alexis Sánchez. Borghi has opted for Sánchez alone in attack, supported by Matias Fernandez.
- Go early and attempt to acclimatise or travel the day before the game, play and leave? It’s a difficult decision especially when your game plan is based around high-tempo and attacking football. With the energy, stamina and athleticism in the team Chile are more suited to adapting than others but they may have to play a more conservative game. It appears extra conservatism is at the forefront of Borghi’s thoughts; quick transitions will provide Chile with their best chances of scoring.
The full-squad can be viewed here.
Also be sure to read I Love Chile’s preview of Friday’s game.