After sitting out the last round of matches, Chile return to World Cup qualifying action tomorrow (20:30 BST, Tuesday) at home to a Colombia side on a high following their 4-0 demolition of Uruguay on Friday.
Chile began the qualifying process poorly, shipping four goals against both Argentina and Uruguay in losing two of their first three matches. After that they found their feet, recording three consecutive 2-0 victories to lead the group prior to last Friday’s fixtures.
Replacing the widely-revered Marcelo Bielsa, who led Chile to the 2010 World Cup, was always going to be a difficult task, but fellow Argentine Claudio Borghi stepped confidently into the breach and has largely succeeded on his own merits. He has been quick to chastise journalists who suggest his is just a lazy continuation of Bielsa’s work.
Borghi has long built his club sides around a 3-4-1-2 formation and has carried this forward to the national team. His Chile side have not displayed the exacting order and relentless attacking prevalent during Bielsa’s reign, but a less systematised, more possession based game has yielded its own benefits, including some excellent recent results.
A disagreement with another compatriot, Universidad de Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli, has robbed Borghi of two of his usual starting defenders for the match against Colombia. Jose Rojas and Osvaldo Gonzalez play as part of a three-man defence at club level and have been near mainstays since Borghi took charge of the national team.
In their absence, Borghi looks likely to start with a defence comprised of Marcos Gonzalez, Arturo Vidal and Gonzalo Jara. Vidal, a central midfielder since moving to Europe five years ago, initially blossomed as a wing-back at Colo Colo under Borghi’s command, and his coach is positive he will adapt competently to a role in the centre of defence.
One of the primary reasons for placing the near six-foot Vidal there is to provide additional height, alongside the 6ft 3inch Gonzalez, to guard against the aerial threat posed by Colombia’s in-form striker Radamel Falcao Garcia, scorer of two hat-tricks already at club level this season.
Falcao was among Colombia’s scorers in their 4-0 rout of Uruguay and looked sharp throughout. He is certain to pose a threat to a makeshift Chile defence and height alone is unlikely to be sufficient to suppress him.
Even if it is, Colombia have other offensive weapons, such as the slick invention of James Rodriguez and depending on who starts, the penalty area threat of Teofilo Gutierrez or pace and power of Carlos Quintero or Dorlan Pabon. This suggests the away side have a good chance of finding the back of the net tomorrow.
Chile, too, are well-stacked offensively, with Matias Fernandez likely to operate as the central playmaker behind a front two of Alexis Sanchez and Humberto Suazo. This triumvirate have, between them, scored 48 goals in the red of the national team.
Jose Pekerman, another Argentine, took charge of Colombia in January this year following the dismissal of Leonel Alvarez. He was tasked with igniting a young yet faltering qualification campaign, and has performed admirably thus far, gaining two wins out of three.
The defeat of Uruguay in the suffocating heat of Barranquilla displayed a Colombia confident in possession and hard working out of it. These are attributes that will be key if they are to get a result in Santiago. Pekerman’s tactical nous was also on display, with his lopsided 4-2-3-1 tilted to achieve the maximum gain from Uruguay’s deficiencies.
He will hope to use Rodriguez and the right-back Camilo Zuniga in similar roles to those they fulfilled on Friday, pushing back Chile’s wing-backs in an attempt to limit their attacking output.
Regardless of the personnel, Pekerman’s midfield – on Friday comprised of Abel Aguilar and Edwin Valencia – will have to be alert and combative up against a Chilean midfield likely to be made up of the similarly attributed Gary Medel and the varied passing of Marcelo Diaz.
Diaz offers a range and quality of distribution beyond either of Uruguay’s central midfielders and it will therefore be doubly important that Colombia’s midfielders close him down as quickly as possible. He was the metronome of the Universidad de Chile side that so enthralled through 2011 and the early part of 2012. He has the potential to perform a similar role for the national team if left unchecked.