Vidal, Chile and the race against time

by Niall Taylor

Being drawn in a group against the two teams who contested the last World Cup final was hardly Jorge Sampaoli and his Chile team’s ideal draw for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but this is the hand that the South Americans have been dealt. Alongside Spain and the Netherlands, Chile will also play their first game in Group B against massive group outsiders Australia.

Having been drawn in such a group, Chile were obviously seen as outsiders by many to even make it through the group stages due to the perceived power of the two European powerhouses in the group.

However, after a string of impressive friendly fixtures, including a consummate demolition of England at Wembley, a close draw  against fellow group members Spain and an extremely narrow defeat against Germany to which they dominated the German team statistically and captain Phillip Lahm said his side had ‘a lucky win’, have shown that Chile are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

The offensive 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 formations used by Sampaoli molded on those of former national team coach Marcelo Bielsa, to whom Sampaoli is a proud disciple, incorporate a flexible, short passing game that aims to maintain possession whilst being able to easily change gear and launch high tempo attacks. This makes Chile formidable opponents against even the strongest of teams.

Chile’s World Cup fixture schedule pits them in their first game against an Australian team that have recently been in very bad form, including crushing 6-0 defeats by both France and Brazil, which could come as a major advantage. A big victory against the group’s underdogs could provide the ideal positive momentum to springboard La Roja into the second match against Spain, especially if results go the Chilean’s way in the other fixture and Spain defeat the Netherlands or vice versa. This would give Chile the opportunity to capitalise on dropped points by on of the other two and forge a strong push towards the knockout rounds. The final group game against the Netherlands on 23rd June could be vital in deciding who makes it out of Group B, especially if the Netherlands’ suspect defence can be exposed by Chile’s explosive attacking prowess.

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Vidal after the operation with Chile teammate Alexis Sanchez

In recent weeks though Chile’s chances have been struck a massive blow with the news that midfield linchpin Arturo Vidal could potentially miss the World Cup finals completely.  After suffering from pain in his right knee that caused him to miss the Europa League semi final against Benfica, it was deemed that Vidal would undergo surgery on his knee that would massively threaten his chances of going to the World Cup.

In the form of his life, Vidal this season has been the irresistible force at the heart of the Juventus’ Serie A winning midfield which has seen him become by far one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world while at the same time contributing six goals in 11 games for Chile during their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign.

On 7th May Vidal was flown to Barcelona for an orthopedic exam before undergoing a partial lateral meniscectomy operation the next day by Dr. Ramon Cugat in the presence of the Chilean national team’s medical team.

After a successful operation Vidal then returned to Turin to continue his rehabilitation. The recovery and rehabilitation time for these types of injuries  in uncertain and varies from case to case. Chilean national team doctor Giovanni Carcuro refuses to rule him out of the World Cup while other sources state that the injury can take up to twelve weeks to heal.

The Chilean public can only sit and wait to see whether Vidal,  and the Chilean national team itself, can recover from this untimely blow and forge a successful World Cup campaign.

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