The Estadio Nacional. Chile v Argentina. 16 October 2012. Four years to the day since Marcelo Bielsa recorded arguably his finest win in charge of La Roja; a 1-0 victory over La Albiceleste giving Chile their first ever competitive win against Argentina. Now the Nacional is the scene of Claudio Borghi’s, Bielsa’s successor, last stand.
A positive result against their rivals and Borghi should be able to hang onto his job until the next round of qualifying matches, with Chile still in a good position to qualify for Brazil. Lose and the Chilean fans will do their damndest to get their wish of Borghi being relieved of his duties.
Fans have already made their feelings known at Chile’s training base in Macul, Santiago; ‘Borghi Out’, ‘Thieves’ and ‘National Shame’ were scrawled onto the training complex while eggs were also thrown.
On Friday La Roja meekly surrendered to Ecuador in Quito. Despite taking the lead Chile succumbed to a 3-1 defeat; a result they fully merited as they attacked sporadically and defended shoddily.
I made a flimsy analogy in my analysis of the game that Chile is a Ferrari being manhandled by Borghi. However, if you read the comments, Neil Zimmerman makes a stronger point comparing Chile to an older model Porsche; on its day it can be unbelievable but it still has its deficiencies.
Yes, Chile has a number of players playing in the top leagues in Europe. In fact there has probably never been a more successful period of Chilean players earning moves to Europe. But if you closely scrutinise the squad there is a clear weakness in defence where there is little strength in depth.
José Rojas’ injury has robbed the squad of its quickest defender, integral when playing with a back three.
Discussing the defensive options available to Borghi leads us on to another deficiency of the squad – the squad’s lack of discipline. Rojas is joined on the sidelines by Osvaldo González and Pablo Contreras – possibly Chile’s first choice back three – who both picked up the necessary cards to rule them out of contention for the Argentina encounter.
The defensive duo weren’t the only players to earn a suspension; Arturo Vidal received a needless red card for ‘elbowing’ Ecuador’s Luis Saritama in front of the referee as he attempted to shrug of the midfielder’s presence and drive forward.
Then of course there are all the off-field issues that can act as mitigating circumstances in Borghi’s defence of his Chile tenure.
But discussion as to whether Borghi should stay or go should be left for another piece; this is about one game. Argentina comes into the game after a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Uruguay. They put in a confident performance with Messi in typically majestic form, linking with Sergio Aguero to devastating effect.
What should worry Chile though are the improvements in defence for Argentina. Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernández appear to be fostering a competent central defensive partnership protected by the wily Javier Mascherano and the classy Fernando Gago. Marco Rojo offered attacking penetration from left-back and Pablo Zabaleta adds dependability to the other full-back position.
One of Argentina’s two doubts is Rojo. If he fails to make it the veteran Napoli defender Hugo Campagnaro is likely to play at right-back with Zabaleta switching to the left. Despite playing as a centre back for Napoli, Campagnaro is confident in the right-back position, often venturing forward for Napoli; a solid replacement.
The other doubt is Gonzalo Higuain but the Real Madrid striker is likely to make it.
So what about Chile and their selection headache? Borghi is likely to field one of two teams; one with a back three or one with a back four.
As I mentioned earlier Chile are lacking central defensive options which may suggest a back four is a more sensible option, especially after the way La Roja defended in Ecuador where they were susceptible to attacks down the flanks.
Dropping Mauricio Isla into a deeper position will create an interesting battle with Angel Di Maria while on the other flank Jean Beausejour is the likely incumbent to fill in at left-back due to lack of options. After a passive performance on Friday the Wigan player will have to much improved as he’ll potentially have space to attack on the left-wing as Argentina play without a nominal right-sided midfielder or forward. The centre-backs would be Marcos González and Gonzalo Jara.
A central midfield trio would consist of Marcelo Díaz, Gary Medel and Mark González. In essence that could lead to Medel playing the deepest of the three to try and prevent Lionel Messi picking up possession in front of the defence and leading a merry-dance like he did in Mendoza.
Matías Fernández will be the enganche to link the midfield with the forward two of Sebastián Pinto and Alexis Sánchez. The presence of Pinto could be crucial in an attacking sense, allowing Sánchez to player a more natural role with greater freedom.
The other option is: Miguel Pinto; Hans Martínez, Marcos González, Gonzalo Jara; Mauricio Isla, Gary Medel, Mark González; Matías Fernández; Alexis Sánchez, Sebastián Pinto, Jean Beausejour.
Having watched both Ecuador v Chile and Argentina v Uruguay I can unfortunately only see one outcome; an Argentina win. If you can find around 2/1 for Argentina -1 I would suggest backing it.
But I leave you with the last meeting between the two teams in Santiago. Fingers crossed.