An impressive performance by Claudio Borghi’s domestic based squad saw Chile comfortably defeat Peru in Tacna to triumph in the Copa del Pacífico.
Chile controlled the game for long periods but had to wait until the second half before making the breakthrough with Eugenio Mena, Felipe Flores and Bryan Carrasco giving the Chileans a deserving victory.
With the ‘Chile Five’ suspended and Mauricio Isla out injured for the rest of the season a relatively unfamiliar La Roja XI came from behind to draw 1-1 with a strong Ghana side in Philadelphia.
With six Universidad de Chile players selected there was a degree of understanding in the squad in terms of partnerships and style of play. Four La U players found starting berths as Osvaldo González and Jose Rojas lined up beside a former comrade in Marcos González in defence; changed days from the usual trio of Waldo Ponce, Gonzalo Jara and Pablo Contreras. Matías Fernandez played ahead of an in-form midfield duo of Marcelo Díaz and Gary Medel. Matías Campos Toro and Charles Aránguiz were stationed on the wing. There was no place for Napoli’s Eduardo Vargas as Humberto Suazo partnered Alexis Sánchez in attack.
The Black Stars went ahead four minutes before the break through first-half substitute Richard Mpong, sending the sodden Ghanaian fans into raptures; warming themselves up in the process if anything else. Sulley Muntari shrugged off the attentions of Gary Medel to give himself enough time to locate the run of Mpong with perfectly executed whipped pass around the backline on the wet surface. All Mpong had to do was run onto the ball and slide it past Claudio Bravo first time.
With a host of big names missing Claudio Borghi has named a predominantly home-based squad for the upcoming friendly with Ghana on Wednesday the 29th of February in Pennsylvania, United States.
Twelve of the 21 players selected ply their trade in the Primera División, and of that 12 half play for Universidad de Chile. And with six first team players called up it has caused a predicament for Jorge Sampaoli with La U pencilled in to play Cobreloa on the28th, a match rescheduled from the opening day.
Of course the ‘Chile 5’ are suspended while injuries have limited defensive options. Yet with 10 goals conceded in four World Cup qualifiers it gives ‘Bichi’ a chance to look at alternative options as he strives to give his expansive system a solid base. Audax Italiano’s Lucas Domínguez and O’Higgins’ Luis Casanova are unfamiliar names that have been given call-ups in defence.
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.
As good as they are at playing high-intensity, exciting football, Chile are just as adept at shooting themselves in the foot; well the players certainly are. Once again Claudio ‘Bichi’ Borghi has had to contend with off-field problems only days before a crucial World Cup qualifying double-header against Uruguay and Paraguay.
The squad that will be looking to add to the three points gained from the first pair of fixtures is much changed from the one that was announced at the end of October after five players were excluded from selection.
Jorge Valdivia, Arturo Vidal, Jean Beausejour, Carlos Carmona and Gonzalo Jara were sent away from La Roja squad having arrived back 45 minutes late from the christening of one of Valdivia’s sons. There were rumours that some had alcohol on their breath but ‘Bichi’ only announced that the players were ‘not in a proper state’.
Claudio Borghi sprang a pleasant surprise for Chilean football fans by recalling Alexis Sanchez to La Roja’s squad for the crucial (they’re all crucial to be fair) World Cup qualifying double header with the Copa America finalists, Uruguay and Paraguay.
The Barcelona attacker missed the first pair of matches against Argentina and Peru due to a hamstring injury picked up against Real Sociedad in early September. Event though there is concern from Barcelona, amongst others, about his fitness Borghi had no qualms over calling him up to the 25 man sqauad.
Sanchez adds to the already bulging attacking talent at Bichi’s disposal. Attacking talent that persuaded the Chilean coach to go to Buenos Aires with three forwards and a ‘No 10’, only to suffer a 4-1 defeat before plundering four goals themselves in a devastating attacking performance against Peru in Santiago.
Two minutes. That is all it took for Chile to put Friday’s defeat to Argentina behind them and kick-start the long road to Brazil 2014 with a manic 4-2 win over Andean rivals Peru – providing the perfect tonic for an ill Claudio Borghi. Defensive errors that plagued the team in the 4-1 defeat to La Albiceleste were still evident and show no sign of being eradicated but further forward La Roja continue to exhilarate and excite.
Eduardo Vargas – who was one of three Chilean changes from Friday – gave La Roja a dynamic presence in attack troubling Peru with his direct runs and pace while the combination of Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal in the midfield provide a solid base with bite – defensively and offensively. Then there is ‘El Mago’ himself, Jorge Valdivia. He truly is the magician, his feet wands linking midfield and attack, disappearing and reappearing at the right times.
It wasn’t the start to World Cup qualifying for Brazil 2014 Chile had in mind; falling behind early on did not seem to deter La Roja but a second goal before half-time and when Chile were enjoying a period of domination all but ended the contest. Here is a belated review of some talking points from the game on Friday:
1. Claudio Borghi got it wrong
As admirable as it was to state that “we will attack” Argentina from the beginning and setting his team up in a 3-3-2-2 (ish) formation – which included two wing-backs, two ‘No 10s’ and two strikers – Borghi got it wrong. Simple as that. With injuries in defence robbing ‘Bichi’ (Borghi’s nickname) of Pablo Contreras and Osvaldo González there was a required shifting of personnel and a vital midfield component, Arturo Vidal, to the backline. The back three should have been given greater protection than a sole midfield holder (Carlos Carmona), flanked by two wing-back-cum-wingers.
Despite problems in defence and the absence of Alexis Sánchez’s star quality Chile will be hoping to catch Argentina cold in Buenos Aires on Friday as La Albiceleste enter a period of transition under yet another manager.
The race to Brazil 2014 starts now – Friday to be precise – for the South American qualifiers. Since Brazil automatically qualify as hosts it leaves the remaining nine countries playing for four and a half slots – the half being the country that finishes 5th, who will enter a two-legged play-off contest against a country from the Asian Football Confederation.
With over half of the competing countries potentially joining Brazil at the World Cup in under three years time it is shaping up to be the most competitive qualifying process in South American history, especially when you consider that countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela are no longer considered whipping boys, while Peru are much improved after a fabulous performance at the Copa América.