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Chilean soccer players and fans alike have lofty visions of this year's soccer World Cup after qualifying second.
Chile World Cup Team Statistics: Group H
Status: Advance round 2, knocked out quarterfinals
World Ranking: 18
World Cup 2010 results: 2-2-0
Total goals scored: 3
Total goals scored against: 5
Chile World Cup Schedule: June 16 - Honduras (1-0 win); June 21 - Switzerland (1-0 win); June 25 - Spain (1-2 loss), June 28 - Brazil (0-3 loss).
Chile World Cup Soccer 2010
Chile hasn’t nurtured the soccer fanaticism that abounds across South America’s Southern Cone, but that may be a result of years of disappointment and appropriately muted expectations.
Last year Chileans seemed to embrace a “just happy to get there” attitude, reflecting the nation’s absence from the World Cup since 1998. But the team stunned everyone — in and out of Chile — by qualifying in second place, well ahead of its soccer bully neighbor to the east, Argentina.
Now Chile, a country that tends to be susceptible to vast mood swings, has gone sky-high on its young team. There is even talk of a championship run, a remarkable ambition for a team that hasn’t seen the second round in almost a half century. Another first-round elimination could plummet Chile into a season of despair. But right now everything remains rosy. Last year the national Congress prepared a bill to grant honorary citizenship to its Argentinean coach for “his service to the country.” It has not been passed, but the mere fact that it was introduced shows the important role the Chilean national team plays in the country.
Chile World Cup History: Chile has qualified for the Cup eight times, the last in 1998. But other than in 1962 when Chile finished third as tournament host, it hasn’t won a World Cup game since 1950.
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Chile World Cup Conventional Wisdom: Chile’s team will be one of the youngest and least-seasoned in the tournament. But its strong performance in qualification, when it finished second — just one point behind Brazil and with just one less goal — has boosted expectations exponentially. With Chile’s draw, the second round seems a reasonable aspiration.
Chile World Cup Team Coach: Marcelo Bielsa
The Argentinean suffered through a monumental flop when he failed to get his native country out of the first round in 2002. Yet he still commanded enough respect to be left at the helm of the 2004 Argentine Olympic team and led it to a gold medal. He is noted for both his obsessive and idiosyncratic approach on everything from lineup choice to training methods. And he has transformed Chile from a dull, cautious aggregate into an entertaining — sometimes enthralling — attacking team.
Chile World Cup Team Strength: Bielsa’s intensive physical regimen has struck gold with Chile’s youthful attackers, yielding one of the rare Cup teams not preoccupied with where goals will come from.
Chile World Cup Team Weakness: Youth on the back line is always a risky proposition. Chile’s young and undersized defenders have been prone to lapses in concentration as well as impetuous fouls, a potentially fatal flaw in South Africa.
Chile World Cup Key Player: Alexis Sanchez
Humberto Suazo is the team’s most reliable scorer, leading all South American qualifying teams with 10 goals. But the 21-year-old Sanchez is the dazzler, the player whose promise, if fulfilled, could propel Chile to the next level.
Known as “El Nino Maravilla” or “Wonder Boy,” Sanchez debuted for the national team at age 17 and World Soccer Magazine chose him as one of the 5o most promising teen prospects. The coach has made Sanchez a special project, trying to add focus and discipline to his natural gifts of speed, mobility and ball-handling ability. If Sanchez breaks out in South Africa, Chile could have a breakout tournament, too.