Welcome to the latest in a new series where we will take a tactical dive and explore each and every one of the 32 qualified World Cup teams.
Next up is Chile, a team who eased into the finals courtesy of a wonderful qualifying campaign following the replacement of Claudio Borghi as head coach.
Chile were pretty poor in the first half of the CONMEBOL qualifying section, but much of that was down to Borghi and his outdated tactics and selection policies.
He was fired on November 14, 2012, following three consecutive losses—to Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia—that left Chile's campaign entirely in doubt. During Borghi's reign, the team conceded an average of two goals per game (18 total), while under new man Jorge Sampaoli, that number was halved.
Sampaoli won five of his seven qualifying games in charge, drew one with Colombia (3-3) and sustained just one loss in the dizzy heights of Lima, Peru.
Qualification, in third place, was inked on the final matchday against Ecaudor, but it would have taken a miracle for Chile to drop out of the automatic qualifying spots in truth.
Formation and Style
From Sampaoli's first game in charge, in Lima's tough climate, it was evident that a strong passing game mixed with deadly counterattacks was to be the fulcrum of this side.
He has switched between a 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3 formation throughout qualifying and during friendlies, and the "identity" he has installed means that no matter the shape, Chile play a similar way.
There are no spare parts in this Sampaoli side, but there are three key roles that remain integral to how they win football matches.
Firstly, Marcelo Diaz plays as a deep-lying playmaker, setting the tempo of the game and recycling possession in midfield to keep it away from the opposition.
He's a master of short distribution even when under the most intense pressure, and opposing midfielders have been known to become extremely irritated with him extremely quickly.
He doesn't take many risks, nor does he need to, and his first port of call in terms of outlets is either Arturo Vidal (RCM) or Mauricio Isla (RB/RWB).
Behind him, Gary Medel does a marvelous job in central defence despite making his name across Europe as a hounding defensive midfielder. Chile's one weak point is a complete lack of world-class centre-backs, and Medel does Sampaoli a big favour in filling in.
Up front, they have a man in form named Alexis Sanchez. He's thriving at Barcelona under Gerardo Martino, and he's carrying that confidence into the national setup every time he links up with the squad.
He plays off Jorge Valdivia, who utilises an odd false-nine/classic No. 10 hybrid role that's pretty unique at this moment in time.
Reasons for Hope
First and foremost, they're playing on their home continent and will be far more accustomed to some of the high temperatures and suffocating humidity levels Brazil throws up.
They have crafted a game plan which can vary greatly in speed, and depending on the fitness levels of the team and the exhaustion levels in the players, we could see Sampaoli tailor a possession-based tactic that rarely ever hits second gear.
This flexibility is important, and it simply adds another string to the manager's bow when he's devising how to take on his group-stage opponents.
Alexis is a world-class forward and will score goals when confident, and Chile also boast arguably the world's best central midfielder of 2013, in Arturo Vidal, to run the engine room.
The first-choice wing-backs are very strong and Marcelo Diaz is a key cog most international teams would love to poach—despite his lack of "star quality."
Sampaoli, a proud disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, focuses on switching his shape to disrupt the flow of the oppositions. He can identify how to do this extremely quickly, and the pressing game is outrageously good.
Reasons for Concern
In truth, there are very few reasons for concern if you're Chile, but the defensive structure continues to worry even the most diehard fans.
Medel is played in the back line partly because he brings mobility and swift distribution, but it's also a damning assessment of the central defensive corps in the existing talent pool; as strong as the Cardiff man is on the ground, he's vulnerable in the air.
You also get the impression that, should La Roja fail to reclaim possession with their pressing game, they can leave themselves a little open in behind the wing-backs. England came close to scoring a number of times using this method in a recent friendly.
Conclusions and Predictions
Chile were drawn a pretty horrific group of Spain, Netherlands and Australia.
The Socceroos are in dire shape and seem a walkover on paper, but the other two sides present a serious problem early on. One big side will exit at the group stage, but the chances of that being Chile are not clear-cut.
If there's one thing La Roja are under Sampaoli, it's stable and settled; if there's one thing the Dutch are not under Louis van Gaal, it's that.
Spain will probably have too much for Chile and will likely beat them at their own game, but the Netherlands are a different story.
Prediction: Knocked out in Round of 16
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