COMMENT: With a place in the last 16 effectively at stake, Chile take on Spain at the Maracana and are well-placed to knock out the reigning world championsBy Peter Staunton in Cuiaba
A draw will probably do for Chile to progress at the expense of Spain when they clash in Group B on Wednesday but their style doesn't readily lend itself to conservatism. Their game is not about keeping the opposition out, it's about taking the game to them.
"I don't think anything will make us lose intensity," coach Jorge Sampaoli said last week. "It is necessary to stand up against any opponent we have. If we played differently, we'd lose our identity."
There is no chance Chile will ever play cautiously and eke out a point. That would be a betrayal of the coach's methods which he has worked hard to restore. Chile have played like this before. This type of football was an identifiable Chilean quality under Marcelo Bielsa. They lost their way to an extent under his replacement Claudio Borghi but Sampaoli, a devoted student of Bielsa, has instilled those characteristics all over again.
Tempo is now Sampaoli's trademark. He is not a man to compromise his principles. Whether it's Australia or Spain, their unrelenting rhythm will not be altered.
"We need players who are very nimble and quick to break through defences," Sampaoli said. Marcelo Diaz, in midfield, is the embodiment of the coach's ideals. He never plays a pass Sampaoli wouldn't want him to.
Diaz remains totally committed to Sampaoli's style. It was ingrained on him and many of his international colleagues during their days together at Universidad de Chile, where they won national and continental titles. Sampaoli knows the players well and commands loyalty.
In their first Group B match, a 3-1 win over Australia in Cuiaba, they swarmed around the beleaguered Socceroos from minute one. Their football pulsating like the stands containing their raucous supporters.
They were 2-0 up against an over-matched opponent within 15 minutes before their standards slipped on Friday night. "To take on our other rivals, we must make our matches more complete," the coach admitted after the victory.
It is a quick turnaround to the Spain game and it's not that long since these sides met for the last time although how much can be taken from that 2-2 friendly draw last September in Geneva is debatable. Chile were close to full-strength whereas Spain started with only three players who are likely to play from the outset in the Maracana.
Sergio Ramos, Xavi and Pedro played, while some fringe players staked their claims for World Cup consideration. Ramos and Xavi didn't fare well on the night. A lapse in concentration saw Ramos play Vargas onside for the opening goal. Xavi was overpowered in midfield. "We will find certain weaknesses and induce errors," Sampaoli said before the tournament.
The South Americans have confidence and belief. They are fearless.
"We want to be just as difficult for them as they are for us," said Sampaoli. "Spain and the Netherlands can be tackled by us."
They will relish the opportunity to not only seal their own qualification but to also eliminate the champions.
Chile have every right to be considered as contenders in their own right for this tournament. "We have players willing to tackle big commitments like this one," Sampaoli said. "Our thrust will be greater than our impediments."
There could of course be the Spanish backlash. They are three points and six goals behind Chile and need to close both of those gaps before their last group match against Australia. Spain lost their first game at World Cup 2010, but beat Chile in the group stage before going on to lift the trophy.
Sampaoli's men may have been unlucky to have the win snatched from them in Geneva as it showed that the best teams always find a way. Chile play so intensely that lulls are inevitable. There is an idealistic quality to their football. Spain will be patient enough to parry the blows and attempt to seize chances of their own.
"Spain lost, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing," said goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. "We face a wounded rival now and that’s always dangerous.
"But all we are thinking about is winning this game. We need to play with intensity, take our chances and play without fear. If we are clear about our own ideas, we can win the game."