Argentinian managers are accustomed to having a wealth of attacking talent at their disposal, although not usually while in charge of Chile. In a tournament that has often been light on entertainment, the advent of Marcelo Bielsa's adventurous side is anticipated in a manner hardly befitting a country without a win at the finals for nearly half a century.
Bielsa, the 54-year-old who shares a Rosario birthplace with Lionel Messi, is one of the competition's more forward-thinking coaches. In his three years in charge of Chile, chastened perhaps by his failure in charge of Argentina in the 2002 finals despite his denials yesterday, he has earned a reputation for picking talented young players and giving them the freedom to express themselves. "We only think about attacking," he said yesterday before overseeing a final training session ahead of today's Group H opener with Honduras in Nelspruit. "We will try to attack as much as we can."
It is an approach founded on fine principle but also grounded in the simple reality that the strength of his squad lies up front, with the defence having proved a constant worry. Chile finished runners-up to Brazil in South American qualifying, winning one more game than the favourites and scoring only one goal less. But they are capable of veering between extremes; they beat Argentina (a result that set in motion Diego Maradona's appointment as coach), lost 3-0 at home to Paraguay and conceded more goals than Maradona's sluggish backline.
In Humberto Suarez, the top scorer in South American qualification with 10 goals, playmaker Matias Fernandez and Alexis Sanchez, who can play as an out-and-out striker but is more usually utilised in a wider role, Bielsa has a potent attacking trio. Suarez is expected to start having recovered from a hamstring injury. Honduras will have Tottenham's Wilson Palacios in midfield as he too is fit again.
Better luck second time around
Eight years ago Bielsa took a heavily fancied Argentina to Japan. He assembled an experienced squad supposedly but never made it out of the group stages after losing to England. "Eight years have gone by and they are totally different experiences," he claimed yesterday.Reuse content