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Can Chile win the Copa America?

In the ninety-nine year history of the Copa America, Chile have never won it. They head into the 2015 version as hosts and one of the favourites for the competition, but are they good enough to end this barren run?

Firstly, let’s look at the positives. World superstars Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez are going to have to be at their best if Chile are to win their first piece of major international silverware. It is fair to say that both have enjoyed fairly successful seasons with their clubs. Sanchez has been an undoubted key player in England for Arsenal and whilst Vidal hasn’t hit the personal heights of previous seasons, he was still a vital cog in the wheel that rolled Juventus all the way to Berlin for the Champions League final. Both players ended with domestic silverware; as did goalkeeper Claudio Bravo at Barcelona. In addition to this, Sampaoli is one of the few coaches in the tournament that will have the luxury of picking a settled side.

Another key man, Charles Aranguiz, has arguably been Chile’s most consistent performer under Sampaoli. The dynamic midfielder has enjoyed a successful march to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores with his Brazilian club side, Internacional de Porto Alegre. David Pizarro and Matias Fernandez’s form aided Fiorentina’s run to the semi-finals of the Europa League. Regular midfielder starter Marcelo Diaz helped save Hamburg from relegation whilst Gary Medel was one of the few players worthy of wearing the Inter shirt in Serie A. In addition to this, rising star Angelo Henriquez’s excellent form and goals were crucial as Dinamo Zagreb won the double in Croatia. Defender Eugenio Mena impressed in Brazil for Cruzeiro at left back.

On the other hand Eduardo Vargas and Mauricio Isla couldn’t save a hapless QPR side from relegation. Playmaker Jorge Valdivia has suffered another injury hit year in Brazil and Jean Beausejour blew hot and cold for Colo Colo. In addition to this central defender Jose Rojas has looked barely good enough for Chilean domestic football for the last eighteen months  let alone the national team and would therefore be a liability if he started any of Chile’s matches in this Copa America.

When Jorge Sampaoli took over in 2012, Chile were on a terrible run of form with discipline issues on and off the pitch. Sampaoli turned things around, despite losing his first competitive match in charge. Chile reached the World Cup in Brazil without too many problems in the end but disciplinary concerns did rear their ugly head though. A needless sending off when Chile were winning 3-0 in Barranquilla against Colombia led to a 3-3 draw. Then at the World Cup in Brazil, reports emerged that the players hadn’t been on their best behaviour whilst on duty. 

Before the 2014 World Cup, my biggest concern was the lack of height in defence and the poor defensive organisation at set pieces,  a concern that proved to be correct. Of the four goals Chile conceded in Brazil last year, three of them were mainly down to opposition winning headers. Aside from the goals they conceded, if you watch their matches in the World Cup and the friendlies since then you will see the majority of excellent chances they gift to the opposition are headers, often from set pieces. When it comes to height,  Chile have the smallest squad out of the twelves sides competing for the Copa America this year, so you could argue this problem is physical rather than tactical.

That wasn’t the only reason for their exit in the last sixteen in last year’s World Cup. Sampaoli’s incredulous belief that penalties are a lottery meant that they failed to practice penalties or study Brazil’s likely penalty takers before that absorbing encounter in Belo Horizonte. You would hope that he has changed his stance on this since and has a detailed report on every penalty taker of Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia at the very least. The last side to win the Copa America without needing a victory on penalties was Colombia in 2001, and that was a competition without Argentina and a full strength Brazil.

Tempo is also a problem, as their opponents have become more familiar with Sampaoli’s intense high tempo and attacking pressing game, the less effective it has been. The goals have dried up with Chile’s play becoming too predictable and simply not measured enough. If they are to win the Copa America then they will need a more composed approach I feel. The inclusion of David Pizarro and Matias Fernandez in this squad means that Sampaoli is surely looking at that option although it would be a surprise to see both players start, with neither considered a Sampaoli kind of player.

Off the pitch Chile has improved a number of stadiums and facilities to host their first Copa America since 1991. Nine stadiums in eight cities across the country will host the tournament.  Chile will play all their matches in the national stadium in the capital unless they don’t win the group. The country is expecting a boost in tourism during and after the party leaves town.

I would love to be proved wrong but for all the issues i have highlighted above I find it hard to see Chile winning the Copa America this time around despite this being seen as Chile’s best ever chance by many. I’m not so sure it is especially as Colombia, Brazil and Argentina all look stronger than they did four years ago. Having said that all four semi-finalists from 2011 – Paraguay, Venezuela , Uruguay and Peru – are almost certainly weaker. The draw has been kind to the hosts and if all goes as many predict then they wouldn’t meet Brazil or Argentina until the final. However there is the possibility of meeting holders Uruguay in the quarter-finals and the confident Colombians in the semis. Whatever happens, I doubt their passage to glory will be easy.

Despite rumours that David Pizarro would replace Marcelo Diaz for the opening match against Ecuador, this is set to be the team to kick off the Copa America tomorrow:

Bravo, Mauricio Isla, Gary Medel, Gonzalo Jara, Mena; Charles Aránguiz, Díaz, Vidal; Sánchez, Valdivia y Beausejour

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