Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad), Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile), Cristopher Toselli (Universidad Catolica), Paulo Garces (O'Higgins);
Defenders: Gary Medel (Cardiff City), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), Marcos Gonzalez (Union Espanola), José Rojas (Universidad de Chile), Eugenio Mena (Santos), Mauricio Isla (Juventus);
Midfielders: Jorge Valdívia (Palmeiras), Felipe Gutiérrez (Twente), Rodrigo Millar (Atlas), José Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo Colo), Pablo Hernández (O'Higgins), Francisco Silva (Osasuna), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Charles Aránguiz (Internacional), Marcelo Díaz (Basel), Carlos Carmona (Atalanta), Miiko Albornoz (Malmo);
Forwards: Alexis Sánchez (Barcelona), Eduardo Vargas (Valencia), Jean Beausejour (Wigan Athletic), Mauricio Pinilla (Cagliari), Fabián Orellana (Celta).
Football’s new-fangled great entertainers may struggle to progress past their Group of Death, but they’re sure to give us a good time trying. Under coach Jorge Sampaoli, Chile have enjoyed impressive World Cup preparations, and the preliminary squad picked indicates the array of talents they have on offer. In any other group, perhaps with the exception of Group G (Germany and Ronaldogal), Chile would be dead certs to waltz through to the Round of 16; up against the might of Spain and the Netherlands, however, it may well be a different story.
With a substantial number of Sampaoli’s squad plying their trade in Europe, including household name Alexis Sánchez, La Roja this year carry with them a decent amount of expectation as to how well they will perform. Recent friendlies have done nothing to quell such good feeling surrounding the South American side; though out-playing and out-classing England and Costa Rica may not be hard, it’s a much more creditable feat to push Brazil and Germany all the way, as they did in games last November and this March respectively. As The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson eloquently wrote before Chile’s visit to Wembley last year, La Roja’s swagger, so present and potent under ex-boss Marcelo Bielsa, has returned once more. Having established that their ‘high-octane’ style, as Wilson puts it, can work against both fellow South American and European sides, Sampaoli sees no need for his squad to change the way they play, no matter whom they play, though he did go all Mourinho in a FIFA.com interview last December, stating that considering the teams Chile have been drawn against, ‘...it’s not logical to start thinking that [they are] among the candidates to win the World Cup.’ Nevertheless, if anyone can prove a thorn in Spanish and Dutch sides, it’s surely the man peer-voted best coach in CONMEBOL qualifying.
It’s difficult to overstate just how important the Argentine’s influence has been on La Roja; like his compatriot Bielsa before him, Sampaoli has made the world sit up and take notice of Chile once more, stabilising an often erratic, inconsistent team on and off the pitch. As backpagefootball.com’s Niall Taylor enthuses, Sampaoli’s adherence to Bielsa’s offensive methods has resulted in a Chile side that likes to retain possession yet suddenly switch gear and burst into attack. How this will fare against the massed ranks of Vicente Del Bosque and Louis van Gaal remains to be seen, but lest we forget, Chile did hold Spain to a 2-2 draw last September, and gave Germany a mighty scare in Stuttgart two months ago.
Already, changes have been made to Sampaoli’s side; indeed, one might say that the players are dropping like flies. With Andia, Paredes and Canales deemed surplus to the manager’s requirements – alongside Fiorentina midfielder David Pizarro and CF Monterrey striker Humberto Suazo, who failed to make the cut for the provisional squad itself - the news that Fiorentina midfielder Fernández is no longer available due to a long-standing ankle injury is hardly the most welcome for La Roja fans. Chilean national newspaper El Mercurio has, however, a philosophical take on the matter, noting that the Serie A star was hardly foremost in Sampaoli’s plans, having only started once – against England – in recent matches for his country. Of infinitely more concern to Chileans is Arturo Vidal’s own injury concerns; there is a real danger the Juve star will not be at full fitness for Brazil following his knee operation earlier this month.
Sticking with Vidal, it goes without saying that if the Santiago-born midfielder does play a part in Chile’s World Cup campaign, it’s unlikely to be an insignificant one. His return of 18 goals and six assists from 46 games in all competitions is impressive for a defensively-minded midfielder, equating to a goal just over every 2.5 games. A confident penalty taker, Vidal would be an asset to almost any team in Brazil this year, and unsurprisingly the Serie A Champion is attracting interest from a host of other top European sides, including Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The name most people think of when considering modern Chilean football, however, is Alexis Sánchez. The Barcelona striker has enjoyed an excellent, though trophy-less season at the Catalan giants, more often than not keeping Brazilian wunderkind Neymar out the starting XI, netting 21 goals from a total of 54 appearances, and creating 14 assists. Sánchez’s performance against England last year was incredible; his exquisite header in the seventh minute and his audacious chip in the 93rd indicating the player’s class. Expect Alexis to have a field day in Chile’s first match, against the Socceroos, and don’t be surprised if he does the business against Spain and the Netherlands, too.
Other players who will prove crucial to Chile’s chances of escaping their group are Real Sociedad keeper Claudio Bravo, he of the brilliant distribution and even more brilliant name, and also Palmeiras’ Jorge Valdívia, a player who, according to Sampaoli, is Chile’s equivalent to Messi – and Ribéry and Ronaldo. No pressure Jorge, then.
There is something of a zeitgeist around Chilean football at the moment; not only is the country blessed with some of the most talented players on the planet in Vidal and Sánchez, one of its most well-known managers, Manuel Pellegrini, has just won the Premier League title with Manchester City in his first year in charge. Competing in their ninth World Cup Finals, ranked 13th in the world by FIFA and as 50/1 outsiders by paddypower.com, Chile could well out-dark-horse Belgium this summer. Stay tuned. I'd predict 3rd in Group B (Group stage), though La Roja do have a chance of edging past the Netherlands... only to face Group A’s winners – so Brazil. Whichever way you look at it, if Chile make the quarter-finals, it will have been earned! They won’t win, but they could go further than anyone expects, dragging a few giant cadavers in their wake.