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.
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.
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.