Football

Published on June 5th, 2014 | by John Lyons

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King Arturo returns and Alexis sparkles against Northern Ireland

The astonishingly rapid return of Arturo Vidal after knee surgery was the main talking point after Chile rounded off their World Cup preparations with a 2-0 win against Northern Ireland.
Just 28 days after an operation on his lateral meniscus, the Juventus midfielder came on for Jorge Valdivia with 13 minutes left at the Elías Figueroa stadium in Valparaíso.
It was thought it would be touch and go whether Vidal would be ready for the World Cup opener against Australia on June 13, so yesterday´s substitute appearance was a shock for everyone.
Now it will be important to see if the attacking midfielder suffers any reaction and can step things up in training over the next week ahead of the Australia match.
Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli said: “Arturo is in a process of recuperation and he´s taken a step forward tonight.
“I can´t say that he will be in the starting line-up in the first game. That depends on his knee and his condition.”
Aside from Vidal´s cameo, it was Alexis Sánchez who once again sparkled for la Roja. After setting up all three Chile goals in the 3-2 win against Egypt last Friday, the Barcelona striker came off the bench for the last half hour and set up both goals against Northern Ireland.
Eduardo Vargas benefited from two of Sánchez´s assists against the Egyptians and took advantage of a superb ball floated forward by him to flick home a header for the opener against the Irish in the 79th minute.
Three minutes later it was the turn of former Hearts striker Mauricio Pinilla to make the most of more inspired play from Sánchez, who turned sharply and slid an inch-perfect ball into his path. Substitute Pinilla produced a clinical low finish to beat keeper Roy Carroll and make it 2-0. His last goal for la Roja had been back in 2005.
Sampaoli said: “Alexis is in good form and he´s vital for us even if he doesn´t score himself because he sets up his team-mates.”
The late goals sent the crowd home happy, but the disappointing thing for Chile was that it needed the introductions of heavyweights like Sánchez, Vidal and Charles Aránguiz to see off the visitors.
Aside from Valdivia´s encouraging display, most of the other players given the chance to show what they could do failed to impress. Strikers Esteban Paredes and Fabian Orellana didn´t spark on a night when Chile laboured for long spells.
It suggests that Chile will be reliant on their stars to perform if they are to do well in the World Cup. At least it looks as though Vidal will be ready for battle.

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