Sunday, 27 June 2010

Attack, Attack, Attack! La Roja Ready to Take Game to Brazil

This is what is has to come to for La Roja. A Round of 16 match against the most successful team in World Cup history. If Chile against Brazil doesn't get the heartbeat going then nothing will.

History is against Bielsa's men. The last all South American tie at the World Cup was in 1998 between the same teams. Brazil ran out 4-1 winners that day on their way to yet another World Cup final.

The only other encounter between Chile and Brazil at the World Cup was the semi-final in Santiago in 1962. Again A Seleção turned on the style, registering a 4-2 win.

So the annals tell us that when Brazil play Chile in football's leading competition, three things happen. The men in yellow and green win, they score 4 goals and go on to make the final.

Chile can't take much heart from the qualification process either. Brazil triumphed 3-0 in Santiago and 4-2 in Salvador. And yet, and yet...there are still grounds for optimism for Monday's encounter.

Thankfully Bielsa sees the match as an opportunity:

'One is always enthusiastic to change history when history is not favourable. Each match gives us the opportunity to do that and tomorrow's match is a very attractive opportunity for us to reverse that trend.'

Fine words and his adoring public in Santiago can take a lot of positives from the performances so far. The opening two games, that secured the points needed to progress to the next round, were full of attacking football and positivity. They were unlucky not to score more goals against Honduras and Switzerland and were comfortably the better team in both matches.

Yes they lost to Spain but after a crazy first half in which enthusiasm got the better of them, they re-grouped well at the break, pulled a goal back and restricted the Spanish to any further goals, despite playing with ten men. Again they played with skill and invention. In Alexis Sanchez they have one of the genuine stars of the tournament and surely one day he is going to get on the score sheet.

But that first half in Pretoria has seriously hampered their chances against Dunga's team. They will be without key defenders Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce through suspension and also Marco Estrada after his unfortunate red card. Better news is that Carlos Carmona and Matias Fernandez are available for selection after missing the Spain game.

Bielsa has some head-scratching to do before selecting his starting XI. Is the time now right to bring Humberto 'Chupete' Suazo in from the cold? His battle to shake off his hamstring injury dominated the media in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. But so far he's only managed to play for 45 minutes - the first half against the Swiss. Now would be the perfect moment to make a goal-scoring return to action. If there has been one criticism of La Roja so far it's been their wastefulness in front of goal.

There is better injury and suspension news for Brazil with Kaka, Robinho and Elano all expected to return to the starting line-up after missing the game against Portugal. Felipe Melo, one of their key ball winners in midfield, is the only injury concern.

Bielsa is under no illusions about the challenge that awaits:

'Brazil are always a side to be afraid of. They still have all the creative attributes of football typical to Brazil as well as a certain amount of aggressiveness.'

His comments are, as ever, insightful. Any number of Brazilian players are capable of producing a moment of sublime skill in an instant but in their matches so far they have proved that they are also one of the most physical teams in South Africa. A potent combination, even if the fans in Rio, Sao Paulo and Salvador would prefer more emphasis on the Beautiful Game rather than the Brutal Game.

Meanwhile in Santiago, the reaction will be unprecedented if they pull off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history. After qualification was secured on Friday the masses descended on Plaza Italia once again with their flags, chants and obligatory horns. The excitement in the air was palpable and it took some shock tactics on the police's part to clear the scene. Come Monday, any fan would accept a blast from a water cannon in exchange for a famous victory.

It's all to play for. Chile's biggest match since that last meeting with Brazil in 1998. Everything points to an open game. Will the status quo be preserved or is this the time for a change in fortunes? Time will tell but maybe, just maybe, they have more to offer this time around.

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