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The dark horse of the World Cup

Friday, June 13, 2014

VITORIA, Brazil - Not since 1962 when they finished third as hosts has there been such optimism surrounding Chile leading into the World Cup.

Since then La Roja have had a chequered history at the tournament.

The lowest point came in 1989 when, down 1-0 in their must-win World Cup qualifying match against Brazil, goalkeeper Roberto Rojas faked an injury with a razor blade hidden in his gloves in an attempt to have the match nullified.

The attempt failed horribly and Chile missed out of the 1990 World Cup and were subsequently banned from the '94 tournament for Rojas' actions.

But they've had their share of highs too and stars the likes of Ivan Zamorano, Marcelo Salas and David Pizarro have lit up the World Cup stage.

But the current Chile side, with a great array of talent under coach Jorge Sampaoli, is said to be their best yet.

Their former coach, Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, who led them in South Africa 2010, is credited with transforming the side, implementing a high-intensity pressing style and turning them into one of the most entertaining teams.

His successor and countryman Sampaoli is has the same attack-minded philosophy and since taking over two years ago has guided them to impressive results, notably holding both Brazil and world champions Spain to 2-2 draws and beating England 2-0 last year.

They come to Brazil after finishing a comfortable third behind Argentina and Colombia in South American qualifying — arguably the toughest of all confederations.

In their attacking arsenal includes Juventus star Arturo Vidal, who — while set to miss their opening World Cup clash with Australia — is widely considered the most complete midfielder going round, Barcelona striker Alexis Sanchez and Valencia's Eduardo Vargas.

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