Football

Published on June 12th, 2014 | by John Lyons

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Chileans praying for happy ending in Vidal saga

The World Cup is just a few hours away and the good news is that the Arturo Vidal soap opera is close to its final episode.
Ever since the Chilean midfield star had knee surgery on his lateral meniscus a little over a month ago, the coverage has been non-stop.
It stepped up a gear when he came on as a sub for the last 15 minutes in the 2-0 friendly win against Northern Ireland last week. It showed he was winning his fight to be fit, but a few days later came the news that there was inflammation and a nation was back on tenterhooks.
So far this week, he´s been fit, injured or about to be replaced in the squad if you believe the Chilean media reports. And that´s partly because a wall of secrecy has been built up around the Chile squad.
The journalists are up in arms over the level of access they´ve been allowed, while Vidal has been shielded from the media spotlight. However, the latest indications appear to be more positive and Vidal could yet figure in Chile´s Group B opener against Australia tomorrow in Cuiabá.
There´s no doubt that the Juventus midfielder is a key man for la Roja and his availability would be a big plus for boss Jorge Sampaoli and the mood in the squad in general.
Tomorrow´s match against the underdog Aussies is one Chile must win if they hope to progress from what some have called ´the group of death´.
That´s because the other teams, Spain and Holland, were the two finalists in South Africa four years.
Three points against Australia would put Chile in good heart for next Wednesday’s showdown against Spain in Rio and the 23rd June clash with Holland in Sao Paulo.
And this is a squad that has the ability to perform in the World Cup. Players like Alexis Sánchez, Jorge Valdivia and Eduardo Vargas have bags of quality and Chile have plenty of power offensively.
Midfield is another good area for Chile. In addition to Vidal, la Roja have the likes of Marcelo Díaz and Charles Aránguiz to play the kind of aggressive, pressing game that their former Universidad de Chile boss Sampaoli likes.
Goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo – on the verge of a move to Barcelona – is an experienced keeper, but if there is a doubt for Chile, it´s in the heart of defence.
Cardiff´s Gary Medel is a strong presence, but who plays alongside him is open to question. The decision not to take Unión Española´s Marcos González could come back to bite Sampaoli as he would have provided experience and height in the back line.
All the suggestions are that Nottingham Forest´s Gonzalo Jara will line up alongside Medel in the opener and that will no doubt be an area that the Aussies will try to exploit, especially with Tim Cahill´s quality in the air.
With Spain and Holland perhaps neither quite the force they were four years ago and the tournament taking place in South America, Chile have a great chance to get through the group.
But then they may come up against Brazil yet again in the knockout stages and that would be a tall order.
But you never know with Sampaoli, he tends to get the best out of his players. Vidal firing on all cylinders would help, too.
Let´s hope the rain pouring in Santiago today is not an omen of tears to come.

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