For many the 2010 World Cup wasn’t the greatest in terms of football action. Most teams played the now almost universal formation of 4-2-3-1, which can frequently be tediously dull, unless done well (i.e., Germany). It’s often said that formations are neutral and it’s tactics that decide whether a team is an attacking side or a defensive unit, but the Argentinian Marcelo Biesla’s 3-3-1-3 is a difficult formation to imagine in anything other than an offensive line up. It’s a formation that bemused many of the UK’s “brightest” pundits, and only Gareth Southgate seemed to be able to actually spot what it was, but that’s not really the greatest of compliments. It had worked well for Chile in their qualifying campaign, winning 10 games and finishing a very impressive 2nd in the final standings, beaten only by Dunga’s resolute Brazil.
Historically, Chile has lagged well behind South America’s big team. Argentina and Brazil are two giants of the game, and Uruguay too has a winning history. Chile best result so for was when they placed 3rd in the 1962 World Cup, which they hosted, defeated in the semi-finals by eventually winners Brazil. That Brazil side though, was a team that featured the legendary players Pele and Garrincha. Chile too, have failed to do what Peru, Paraguay and Colombia all have done, which is to win the Copa America. Even the countries’ U20 and U17 teams have yet to claim any silverware for the country. Fans of La Roja will be hoping that with a young promising squad they are at least closer now than they have been for some time, even without their madman coach; Marcelo Biesla.
A few months before the ANFP (National Association of Professional Football), Chile’s governing body, had its presidential elections, Biesla stated that he would resign if then-president Harold Mayne-Nicholls (Chilean of Canadian descent, in case you wondered if that was actually an indigenous Chilean name) was not elected. He wasn’t, and Biesla left true to his word. The new ANFP Chairman, Jorge Segovia, had a hard task ahead in searching for a new man now, after the popular Biesla’s departure. Segovia probably relaxed a bit when he heard Chilean Manuel Pellegrini say that “Biesla is not God, nor did he invent football”. Pellegrini would have been a favourite had he not signed for cash-rich La Liga strugglers Malaga. Frank Rijkaard was rumoured, but there was a more likely man: another Argentinian, Claudio Borghi. Borghi had a hugely successful period with Chile’s biggest club; Colo Colo. Borghi had also done an excellent job in Argentina with Argentinos Juniors, leading them to an unlikely Torneo Clausura win. This was Argentinos’ first league win in 25 years, a great achievement for the club and for their new manager. Although Borghi was unable to repeat his success when he went to manage the struggling Boca Juniors, eventually leaving after a 1-0 defeat to the clubs uber-arch rivals, River Plate. Then on February 24th 2011, Borghi signed a contract to be Chile’s national manager until the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, (with an automatic extension if they qualify).
Claudio Borghi has a lot to live up to, Biesla was popular amongst Chile’s fans. His own unique brand of football will be hard to imitate – and it’s going to be tough for Borghi to get his team playing in such an entertaining way. The foundations are there for Borghi though; Chile’s World Cup 2010 team was young and promising. Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla are all 23 or younger. Biesla was never afraid to bleed in promising youngsters where he could and only time will tell how they could improve. There’s experience there too, Pablo Contreras has made 53 appearances for Chile and has certainly been around the block in his club career, which currently has him located with PAOK of the Greek Super League.
Chile’s most famous player right now of course is Alexis Sanchez. The Udinese winger has been converted by major clubs all around Europe – Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona Juventus, and Internazionale just to name a few. Many good teams tend to have a player who stands out about as the star, and it would be unfair to say that Alexis Sanchez is Chile’s only threat – it’s more of a compliment of Sanchez’s fantastic talents that he should be so clearly outstanding. It helps too now that currently Sanchez is having is best season yet, with 11 goals in 23 games for Udinese so far this season, including the extraordinary 4 goals he scored in Udinese’s 7-0 demolition of Palermo in Sicily.
It will be interesting to see how well, Chile will do in the Copa America 2011. As always, Brazil (the team that beat them 3-0 to end their World Cup campaign) and Argentina (the hosts) will be considered run away favourites, but they don’t always win. As recently as the 2001 tournament in which Colombia were surprise winners, after Honduras had shocked Brazil in the quarterfinals. Although in 2001, the AFA pulled Argentina out of the tournament due to fears of the way in which Colombia were hosting the competition, indeed there were plans in place at the time to move the tournament to Venezuela.
Chile too, are in a tough group with teams of a similar level, having been drawn with Mexico, Uruguay and Peru. Mexico (one of the tournament’s guest teams with Japan) and Uruguay both had very strong World Cup campaigns and will be hugely tough for Chile to overcome. Despite the fact Chile are still trophy-less now there should be no expectation for them to win anything right now, they need to use this exciting young team as a base for future success. These players like Sanchez, Isla and Vidal are playing top-flight football in Europe and gaining brilliant experience to bring back to their country. After all the turmoil of the Biesla saga, Chile will need stability and progressing through the group stages should be seen as achievement enough for a team that is still growing. It’s not so much that Chile can’t win the tournament – they do have a great squad, it’s more that they need to realise their current generation of good players can be patient and constructive. Whether they succeed in fulfilling their potential or not, we could all sit back and watch perhaps a brilliantly entertaining side of good young players. Or maybe under Borghi they will develop a new tactical maturity, as great as Chile’s football was in the World Cup it is rare to see that kind of successful football be immensely effective in a world of 4-2-3-1, 4-5-1 and 4-3-3.
Perhaps a more realistic goal in the long term is to be the third best side in South America. Uruguay, historically have produced some great players and currently two of the world’s best strikers hail from the country, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. Yet Uruguay is a much smaller country than many of it’s South American rivals. It is approximately 4 times smaller than Chile. Uruguay it could be said then, is perhaps the Portugal or Netherlands of South America. Chile can build from their recent experience in the World Cup and know they are capable of producing good players and teams. Indeed, Chile president Sebastian Pinera has been trying hard to push sports as an agenda in the government amongst plans to apparently blanket the country in football pitches. So Chile must build now, as it would be a shame to let such a good group of players go to waste.