Chile vs. Northern Ireland: 6 Things We Learned
Chile bade farewell to their countrymen with a 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland in Valparaiso on Wednesday in their final pre-World Cup friendly.
Northern Ireland defended deep and held out until the final quarter-hour, when goals from substitutes Eduardo Vargas and Mauricio Pinilla fired Chile to victory. It was a valuable, if largely frustrating, exercise for La Roja coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Here are six things we learned from Chile’s 2-0 win over Northern Ireland.
Francisco Silva Will Be Used as a Defender
Eyebrows were raised when Sampaoli left towering defender Marcos Gonzalez out of his final squad, as it seemed to leave Chile short of genuine centre-backs. The truth, however, is that Sampaoli’s system has little use for such players.
Chile defend so high up the pitch that a traditional lumbering centre-back would just be a liability. Sampaoli seeks tenacious and mobile players who are capable of quickly covering ground to cut out counter-attacks. An ability to play in midfield is a plus, as it allows him to shift between three and four at the back without having to make a substitution.
Defensive midfielder Gary Medel has been a regular in the centre of defence under Sampaoli, and now Francisco Silva is starting to get semi-regular game time in the same role. Silva played between Medel and Jose Rojas in the centre of Chile’s back three on Wednesday, a position he also occupied in the friendly defeat to Germany earlier this year.
He was turned on one occasion during the first half, leading to a two-on-two break that Northern Ireland were unable to take advantage of, but he otherwise performed solidly enough. More importantly in terms of Chile’s style of play, he passed simply yet crisply out of defence.
Silva showed he is capable of playing in a defensive role for Chile this summer.
Albornoz Currently Looks Better Defensive Option Than Rojas
Miiko Albornoz has been one of the stars of Chile’s pre-World Cup training camp, earning himself a place in the final 23-man squad and possibly in the starting lineup.
Sampaoli was very pleased with Albornoz’s performance in the recent 3-2 friendly victory over Egypt, and the Malmo defender’s stock will have risen further following Rojas’ performance against Northern Ireland on Wednesday.
Rojas is probably the closest direct competitor Albornoz has for a starting spot. The Universidad de Chile defender did himself no favours with an erratic display in which he gave away numerous fouls due to his impatience to get to the ball. He would likely have been booked for persistent fouling if it had been a competitive match.
Sampaoli worked with Rojas at Universidad de Chile, and if it is a question of trust, then it is Rojas who is most likely to start against Australia on June 13 in Group B. If, however, it is a recent form that is the primary driver behind Sampaoli’s decision, expect Albornoz to get the nod.
Valdivia Looks in Good Shape
Jorge Valdivia is a wonderfully talented but incredibly brittle playmaker. In good condition he is capable of unlocking even the most stubborn of defences, but he missed the first of Chile’s two pre-World Cup friendlies with a thigh strain, causing some concern as to whether or not he would be able to get himself in shape for the tournament itself.
He started on Wednesday, and in his 77 minutes on the pitch, he looked in decent fettle. He saw plenty of the ball, produced a number of incisive passes and worked hard to win the ball back whenever one of his passes was intercepted.
It was not a perfect performance by any means, but it did suggest that with a further week of training under his belt he will be ready to start against Australia in Chile’s World Cup opener.
Paredes and Orellana Fail to Take Their Chance
Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas will be Chile’s first-choice forwards in Brazil, but Sampaoli elected to start two of his back-up forwards on Wednesday in Esteban Paredes and Fabian Orellana.
Orellana covered the full width of the pitch, consistently seeking to get himself involved. He displayed a few neat touches but was also guilty of giving the ball away with sloppy passes in his haste to link up with teammates. Paredes did little of note save from a couple of decent layoffs.
The pair were substituted for Sanchez and Vargas just before the hour mark. Their failure to find the back of the net extended their mutual scoreless run by another match.
Paredes last scored for Chile in March 2013, when he netted in a 2-0 qualifying victory over Uruguay, while Orellana’s last goal for the national team came back in 2009.
To make matters worse for the pair, Mauricio Pinilla, who hadn’t netted for La Roja since 2005, came on for the final quarter-hour and scored Chile’s second goal, latching onto a Sanchez pass and finishing low past Roy Carroll in the Northern Ireland goal.
Sanchez and Vargas Are Hugely Important To Chile
Chile laboured to break down a deep-lying Northern Ireland defence until the introduction of Sanchez and Vargas. The pair had combined to excellent effect in the 3-2 friendly win over Egypt and did so again in their half-hour together on Wednesday.
Vargas beat Northern Ireland goalkeeper Carroll to Sanchez’s clipped ball behind the defence to head Chile in to the lead on 79 minutes, and Sanchez was again the provider for the second, expertly turning a defender before slipping in Pinilla to finish.
Not counting the 4-0 friendly victory over Costa Rica in January, in which neither was involved, seven of Chile’s last 10 goals have been scored by either Sanchez or Vargas. On current form, there are few better strike pairings in international football, and they will have a key role to play in any success Chile are to enjoy this summer.
Arturo Vidal Has Made a Miraculous Recovery
In early May, Arturo Vidal went under the knife to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Ramon Cugat, the doctor who performed the surgery, said on Tuesday, as per Prensa Futbol (in Spanish), that he would usually advise a recovery period of two to three months following such an operation.
Instead, just a month or so later, Vidal returned to the pitch on Wednesday, coming on for the final quarter-hour. The crowd inside the Estadio Elias Figueroa applauded loudly when he appeared on the sidelines prior to his introduction and cheered his every touch once he entered the pitch. He was not heavily involved, but just to be there was a huge achievement.
His appearance will increase hopes that he will be fit enough to start Chile’s World Cup opener against Australia on June 13.