Rivals' former coach inspires Chile to brink of qualification

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The Independent Football

It has not gone unnoticed in Buenos Aires that one Argentine coach is doing very successfully in the qualifying campaign. Marcelo Bielsa was coach of the albiceleste when England effectively knocked them out of the 2002 World Cup in the Sapporo Dome. He survived that debacle, led Argentina to Olympic gold in 2004, then quit.

The 54-year-old then appeared to have gone into retirement only to be lured back to work by the cross-Andean neighbours Chile, an appointment akin to Scotland hiring an Englishman. He has proved an inspired choice. Chile lie second in the South American qualifying programme, a point behind Brazil. Victory tonight over Venezuela will put them on the brink of reaching the finals for the first time since 1998 and only the second time in a quarter-century. Among their successes has been a first victory in a qualifying competition over Argentina, a result which prompted Alfio Basile's resignation, and thus Diego Maradona's appointment.

"Bielsa has humility and says all the credit should go to the players, but he changed everything: the group discipline, the condition of the training camp, the way the other teams look at us," said midfielder Jorge Valdivia.

Valdivia plays for Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates, typical of a journeyman squad which includes former Liverpool winger Mark Gonzalez, now with CSKA Moscow, and West Brom defender Gonzalo Jara. Yet they could be as successful as the generation of Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas.

Elsewhere in the section another Argentine, Gerardo Martino – who coached the national team for two matches in 1991 – looks like steering Roque Santa Cruz's Paraguay into the finals with Ecuador and Uruguay pushing Argentina for the fourth automatic qualifying place.