Chile can go far in Brazil despite Netherlands defeat

The Rio Report

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And so, Chile were beaten by the Netherlands in their final group game, and will have to face the winners of Group A in the final knockout round, but that they are through at all should be seen as a victory.

Their performances in the World Cup thus far have been so impressive that it is something of a shame that they did not get to top the group, but to qualify from a quartet that included this excellent Netherlands side, an Australia who surprised everyone with their high energy performances and the defending champions is a fine achievement, and they should not be disappointed with finishing behind Louis van Gaal's men.

The question now turns to how far Chile can go in this tournament. The most obvious point to make is that, so unpredictable and erratic has the World Cup been so far, it would be foolish to write anything or anyone off now that the group stages are over. If Costa Rica can beat Italy, Spain can go out after two games and even Fernando Torres can score a goal, then a side with Chile's talents going deep into the competition looks positively plausible.

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But their progression is not just in the realms of the possible and the whimsical. This is a Chile side with players that can cause damage to any side in the world, not least Alexis Sanchez, who after a tough first season at Barcelona, has recovered the form that persuaded the Catalans to shell out nearly £30million a couple of years ago.

Eduardo Vargas has been quieter in this tournament, but the Napoli forward is undoubtedly a massive threat, while in Arturo Vidal they have perhaps the best all-round midfielder in the world. Indeed, his absence from the defeat to the Netherlands, left out as a precaution as much as anything else given his knee injury, was keenly felt, as the Dutch were able to largely control the midfield.

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However, it is not the individuals that make Jorge Sampaoli's team a threat, but how they play as a collective. They are, as the old cliché goes, more than the sum of their parts, and their clever movement and pace could prove too much for many of the more leaden defences in Brazil.

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And then there's the coach. Sampaoli is clearly both an adaptable and attacking manager, getting the most out of his ostensibly limited group of players (a few notables aside) by making carefully chosen changes to alter the emphasis of games, he and isn't afraid to be bold either. With Chile struggling to unpick the Dutch defence on Monday, Sampaoli sacrificed a defender to bring on the mercurial playmaker Jorge Valdivia, a player who seems to have as much talent for creative football as he does for frustrating watching fans. On this occasion the change didn't work, but that was more down to stout defence and fine counter-attacking from the Dutch rather than a poor performance by Sampaoli's charges.

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Of course, their most obvious problem is at the back. The defence for two of their their three games has been comprised of Francisco Silva, a defensive midfielder who was relegated with Osasuna last season, Gary Medel, a defensive midfielder who was relegated with Cardiff last season, and Gonzalo Jara, a full-back who was released by Nottingham Forest this summer. That they managed to keep out the defending champions perhaps says more about the deficiencies of the Spain attack than it does about the strength of the Chile defence, but the basic facts of those players keeping such exulted opposition quiet is, frankly, ludicrous.

Plenty of credit must be given to their excellent keeper, Claudio Bravo, who is reportedly on the verge of a move to Barcelona, and who kept Chile in the game for long spells against Spain, and indeed produced a few fine saves against the Dutch.

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Given the nature of their defence it is perhaps not enormously surprising that the team to have caused them most problems has been Australia, whose attacks largely centred around moving the ball wide, get as many crosses in as possible and exploit the aerial prowess of Tim Cahill, which they did to the tune of the only goal Chile conceded before the late Dutch double.

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Jara is listed by Fifa as 177cm (a little under 5'9), Medel 171cm (5'7) and Silva 178cm (5'10), so it's hardly a shock that such an approach might trouble them, and one any opposition coach with some nous will look to exploit. Indeed, it was from set pieces that Chile looked most vulnerable against the Netherlands, and looked like conceding more than the one goal they did allow from such a method. They seemed more comfortable dealing with the threat of Arjen Robben's runs – the lightning counter-attack for their second aside, of course.

In some ways Chile's exciting attacking play has exemplified exactly what has made this World Cup so brilliant to watch, and it would be fitting if they could progress to the latter stages of the tournament. With players like Sanchez and Vidal on the pitch and Sampaoli providing nous and enthusiasm on the touchline, there's no reason why they can't.

Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter

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