In November last year, Chile repeated their 2-0 win over England at Wembley from 1998. A Marcelo Salas double secured victory for the South American outfit before the turn of the Millennium, but it was Alexis Sánchez who put the England backline to the sword in their most recent clash, scoring either side of half time. In the process, this brought an end to the Three Lions' 10-game unbeaten run.
The hosts were accused of complacency, while Chile were insatiable against their European counterparts. The 2-0 win that night was richly deserved for Jorge Sampaoli's side, all the more so when considering key man Arturo Vidal was out injured for the encounter. It was Sánchez though who stole the limelight in the victory, ending the fixture with a WhoScored rating of 8.73.
The attacker was in exceptional form for Barcelona for the whole of last term, netting 19 and assisting a further 10 to cap off his most impressive season for the Blaugrana to date. Sánchez is expected to play a crucial role for La Roja in Brazil for a Chile side many feel can surprise the tournament favourites this summer.
Chile were drawn with World Cup holders Spain and 2010 runners' up Netherlands in Group B, though they begin their campaign against Australia on Friday. A win over the Socceroos should give them the confidence they need to progress to the latter stages of the competition and some believe it will be deserved on the back of their performances under Sampaoli.
The team won plaudits in South Africa in 2010 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa, with their high pressing game impressing many. The experience garnered will serve the side well this time around, while the core of the team has developed significantly four years on.
From an attacking viewpoint, much of the onus will be thrust on Sánchez, who directly contributed to 29% of Barcelona's 100 league goals. The 25-year-old has been at his creative best in Chile's warm up games, playing to the standard expected of him in wins over Egypt and Northern Ireland. Transferring his club form to country has fans feeling they could upset the odds in Group B.
The fact that only Argentina (35) scored more goals in the South American qualifying campaign than Chile (29) points to their capability going forward and is further proof of the attacking quality at the disposal of Sampaoli.
More importantly, however, is the fact that Chile are not heavily reliant on just one goalscorer. While Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia had Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Falcao, respectively, to fire them to Brazil, Sánchez netted just four goals in qualifying. Eduardo Vargas and Arturo Vidal (both five) netted more than the Barcelona attacker, so the offensive quality is spread throughout the squad rather than focused on one individual; Chile had 13 different goalscorers in qualifying.
However, a key player on their journey to Brazil was Fiorentina midfielder Matías Fernández, the 28-year-old netting three times in qualifying. Unfortunately for Chile, though, Fernández underwent ankle surgery last month and will play no part in Brazil. Losing a player of his ilk will undoubtedly hinder their chances at the World Cup.
However, for Sampaoli, this could prove to be a blessing in disguise as Fernandez is sometimes caught out defensively. While Chile were electrifying going forward, their defensive performances left a lot to be desired. Only Paraguay (31), Bolivia (30) and Peru (26) conceded more goals than Chile (25) in qualifying, the trio making up the bottom three of the CONMEBOL section.
Denying the opposition from creating goalscoring opportunities will be crucial to their success in Brazil, though Sampaoli boasts one of the best midfielders in the game to help the backline. Vidal has made a name for himself as one of the finest in his position in world football and his return from a knee injury could not have been more timely. Only Juan Jesus (4.2) averaged more tackles per game than Vidal (4.1) in Serie A last season as Juventus secured domestic glory once more.
He brings a necessary bite and drive to the midfield, allowing the team to reap the benefits of Sampaoli's high pressing game. Moreover, his positional discipline grants wing-backs Mauricio Isla and Jean Beausejour the chance to break forward and support Sánchez and Vargas in attack, allowing Chile to hastily switch from a 3-5-2 to a 3-3-4.
Furthermore, with Charles Aránguiz and Marcelo Díaz expected to flank Vidal in midfield, the 27-year-old is capable of pressing forward to support the attack, thus easing the loss of Fernández. Vidal played a crucial role in Juventus' title defence and his familiarity in a 3-man midfield should benefit the national team this summer both defensively and, when needs must, offensively.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com where you can find more stats and player ratings.Suggest a correction