Though considered the lesser of the two Group B games, Chile’s clash with Australia is still important and will give a clear indication of how both sides will do; Chile are proverbial dark horses and will be expected to win comfortably, while Australia will be looking towards damage limitation as they find themselves in one of several ‘Groups of Death’ at this World Cup.
The Socceroos opted to take part in Asian qualifying to provide tougher opposition, but nothing could prepare them for the task they face here.They are a declining force, still reliant on the same players that they were at the last two World Cups (a lot of pressure on Tim Cahill’s small shoulders), while Chile are an emerging force and will be out to challenge the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay on the continent.
Tough, very tough. When Chile is arguably your ‘easiest’ match in the group stage you’re set to struggle, and it won’t get any easier for Australia as they face both of the 2010 finalists in the next two rounds of Group B. They are considered an unknown quantity by the giants they find themselves up against but it will give them very little advantage when it comes to the quality they’re up against.
Chile are probably a more reasonable bet to escape the group, perhaps even more so than Holland this year. They have a few well-known stars, such as Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal of Juventus, but they play well as a team and their familiarity with the climate may just give them the edge over their European rivals. Securing an early win here and a draw between Spain and Holland would be an ideal result for Sampaoli and his men.
The Australian manager Ange Postecoglou would be forgiven for ultra-defensive tactics against such potent opposition, but the country’s most successful domestic manager favours playing at a high tempo and building from the back. Meanwhile Chile, who tend to play three at the back regardless of the variation ahead of them, are an all out attacking force, a style that can be devastating both for their opponents and themselves.
Chile undoubtedly have the quality to win the game, and will see this as an opportunity to register an early three points ahead of tougher tests. Australia will look to play from the back with Mat Ryan’s strong distribution, but Chile press high and will look to force mistakes high up the pitch to open up the Socceroos early; if they can score early, Australia are likely to crumble and their threat will subside, allowing Sampaoli’s side to finish the game off with consummate ease.
Arturo Vidal could be ruled out of the first game through injury but is, at this moment in time, still part of the squad. Chilean’s will be thankful it’s this game he is missing and not Spain or Holland, and it shouldn’t affect Chile who will press high, play at pace and look to cause many problems. Australia’s best bet may be to play long ball and try and get diminutive forward players like veteran Tim Cahill, Matthew Leckie and Adam Taggart in behind the Chile defence. Should they go a goal down, it may be their only option.
Should Vidal play he is obviously a crucial component to Chile’s fluid football, but presuming he is absent there are a number of other players who will stand out for the South American side. Although Alexis Sanchez isn’t all that they have, he is probably the side’s deadliest goal threat and proved against England in a friendly last year that he is the man to finish off their dangerous attacks. Also important will be Cardiff’s Gary Medel; after a disappointing club season with the relegated Welsh outfit, the ‘Pitbull’ with be vital to breaking up counter attacks and teams trying to expose Chile’s lack of numbers at the back.
Though Tim Cahill is the most recognisable name in the Australian line-up, Postecoglou is trying to develop the nation’s younger talent and a few gems will be on show in Brazil. Mat Ryan is a bright goalkeeper who is a crucial component of Australia’s style of playing from the back, but will be tested to the limit between the sticks throughout the group. Australia will also take to the flanks to get in behind Chile’s wing backs, with Tommy Oar and Matthew Leckie both exciting prospects who will look to supply Cahill.
Crystal Palace’s Mile Jedinak could yet be the most crucial player to Australia’s hopes, as a successful season in the Premier League with a side lead exceptionally to safety by Tony Pulis has further affirmed his quality. He will be charged with protecting his defence and breaking up Chile’s fluidity, before shepherding the ball out wide to help his side get forward. In a squad with many in their early to mid-twenties, Jedinak is one of the most senior members of the team and will be expected to lead his side to some positive performances even if they don’t necessarily lead to positive results.
Even Postecoglou admitted the World Cup has come ‘four years too early’ and is taking a side very much in transition to the finals. Perhaps Russia 2018 will be a better bet, but for now he can see how some of his young stars react to playing on the big stage. Expectation is low because of the group they’re in, and it gives Australia a chance to move on from their ‘Golden Generation’ and develop a new breed of young talent.
As a result they probably won’t abandon their desired style of playing from the back, even though Chile play from the front and will look to prompt mistakes from their inexperienced opponents. Chile will probably take the lead in the first half and see the game out comfortably, but at least Postecoglou won’t abandon his principles.
This tournament is about gaining experience for Australia, with a few to developing a young, hungry and more rounded side for the next World Cup. They will be encouraged to enjoy the occasion and learn from the best of the best as they prepare to face them. Chile won’t miss the opportunity to claim an early three points and, with goal difference possibly a factor in deciding who goes through, they will be keen to win comfortably here.
Prediction: Chile 3-0 Australia
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