Chile a favorable matchup for Brazil
Chile's attacking style is advantageous for Brazil's counter attack
Brazil beat Chile comfortably twice in CONMEBOL qualifying
Brazil's power and height will trouble Chile's defense on set pieces
For a few minutes on Friday it looked as Switzerland, rather than Chile, would be providing the opposition for Brazil's second-round tie. As it turned out, the Brazilians could be forgiven a quiet smirk of confidence.
Switzerland proved devoid of inspiration, but in the last two World Cups they have conceded just one goal in seven games. In the opening group match that Swiss defensive bolt slid across and frustrated the Spanish -- and it is against this type of cautious opponent that Dunga's Brazil have struggled.
Chile represent a very different challenge. True, they carry a far greater threat. But they are also more accessible -- at any rate if World Cup qualification is anything to go by.
Dunga has fond reason to remember the clash of Brazil and Chile in Santiago in September 2008. He was at a low ebb. In June his side had been fortunate to beat Canada in a friendly and had then lost to Venezuela. In the World Cup qualifiers they lost to Paraguay and were jeered off the field after a goalless draw at home to Argentina. Then came the Beijing Olympics, when Brazil's dream of finally winning gold came unstuck in the semifinals with a 3-0 loss to Argentina. The speculation was that Dunga was not fired for only one reason -- there was not enough time for a new man to take over before the trip to Santiago.
Brazil beat Chile 3-0. True, four days later they were held 0-0 at home to Bolivia and the Rio de Janeiro crowd were calling for Dunga to be sacked. But the win in Santiago bought much needed breathing space. It marks the beginning of an extraordinary sequence of results. Starting with that match, Brazil have accumulated 22 wins with 5 draws and just one defeat, scoring 66 goals and conceding 17. Included in that victory procession is the return match against Chile in World Cup qualification, staged in Salvador. Brazil won 4-2.
Chile, then, have proved to be ideal opponents for Brazil. Dunga's team has two principal attacking weapons -- they are devastating on the counter attack and deadly from set pieces. On both counts, the Chileans are vulnerable.
"In today's football caution is a virtue and daring is not well thought of," said Chile's fascinating Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa. Nothing if not daring, Bielsa is a self-confessed obsessive for attack. He always goes with a front three -- two wingers and a central striker. Behind them is an attacking midfielder. And the two wide midfielders are expected to keep pushing forward -- both at the same time, unlike the normal fullback. They link up with the winger to create two against one situations against the opposing full back.
It is high tempo soccer. The team attack at pace, with quick exchanges of passes, lots of width, plenty of options for the man on the ball and presence in the penalty area. And when the move breaks down the objective is to put the opponents under pressure and win the ball back in their half. They take the risk of leaving plenty of space behind them into which the opponent can launch a counter attack -- they very aspect of the game at which Brazil excel.
Then there is the lack of height in the Chile team. They have problems defending in the air -- another area where the current Brazil side are so strong. Brazil curls its free kicks and corners into the penalty box with great precision, and have a phalanx of giants attacking the ball at the near post, far post and in the middle. So far in this World Cup Brazil has not reaped the harvest it expected from its set pieces. That could change against the Chileans.
In Santiago the Chile defense had no answer to the power and physicality of Brazil striker Luis Fabiano. In Salvador the rapid, sleek Nilmar was getting on the end of the crosses. Brazil scored more goals against Chile than any of its other rivals in qualification.
Has anything happened since those matches to change the balance of power? Nothing has happened to Brazil. It remains the same ruthless winning machine. Chile, though, should take the field with an extra spring in its step. Firstly, because not only has it made it to the World Cup, it has also shown itself capable of shining at the level. Bielsa's men perhaps even surprised themselves by getting the better of Spain for the opening half an hour on Friday. They have surely grown in confidence.
And Chile's key man, right winger Alexis Sanchez has also developed. He will be a big worry for Brazil in Johannesburg. The left side of the defense is Brazil's weak spot. Michel Bastos can be isolated at left back, and anyway it is a position he has not filled at club level for some time (he plays on the left wing for Lyon).
Last September in Salvador Sanchez enjoyed himself hugely against the Brazil defense, winning a penalty after a superb dribble and causing so much of a headache that Brazil's Felipe Melo was sent off for a brutal foul on him.
Nine months more mature, the 21-year-old Sanchez is Chile's best hope of closing the gap with Brazil which was so apparent in qualification.
He will have to play out of his skin, because his side will surely have problems at the other end of the field. Suspensions deprive the team of Waldo Ponce -- Chile's best defender in the air, and Gary Medel, its best defender on the ground.
There would be a certain symmetry in a Chile win -- Dunga's good spell in charge of Brazil both starting and ending against the same opponents. The probability is, though, that the pace and power of its counter attack and the aerial threat of its set pieces will send Brazil into the quarterfinals.
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