Few opening World Cup group games should be described as ‘must win’ but Chile’s opener against Honduras tomorrow comes mighty close. With Chile harbouring realistic hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages, they really should claim three points against the group outsiders before facing progressively tougher games with Switzerland and then Spain.
Spain are the overwhelming favourites for the group and rightfully so. On paper, that leaves the other three teams playing for one qualifying spot. A win for Chile tomorrow and a defeat for Switzerland against Spain would really boost the South American’s cause.
The threat posed by Honduras shouldn’t be taken lightly however. The Central American’s have beaten Chile in two of the past three games between the nations, though this is the first competitive tie the two have played. They also boast Premier League talent with the likes of Spurs’ Wilson Palacios and Wigan pair Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas. Genoa Striker David Suazo is one of three Italy based players in the squad.
Despite their contingent of Europe based players, the Hondurans lack experience at major tournaments and struggled during their warm up matches. Two draws with Belarus and Azerbaijan were followed by a crushing 3-0 defeat by Romania ten days ago. Fourteen of the squad are home based in a poor Honduran league and Palacios, the team’s star has just recovered from a groin injury.
Chile have injury worries of their own though as they continue to sweat over the fitness of Humberto Suazo. The striker, who was prolific in qualifying, is battling to be fit after suffering a hamstring injury just over a fortnight ago. That he is even in contention at all seems miraculous given that initial reports suggested he may miss the entire tournament. Suazo will face a late fitness test before Marcelo Bielsa names his starting line-up.
“Suazo has been coming along over the last few days and he’s been training in the same way as his team mates. Nevertheless, physically, he’s still feeling the effect of the rest he’s had to take ever since the Sunday on which he injured himself” Bielsa said.
If Suazo fails to make it he will most likely be replace by Esteban Parades at the point of the Chile attack. Parades scored in the team’s last friendly against New Zealand last week.
Bielsa’s final decision concerns his formation. The Argentine usually fields an extremely attacking 3-3-1-3 formation but has recently experimented with a back four in a bid to solidify the team defensively with European opposition in mind. Neutrals worldwide will be hoping that he sticks with the high octane, entertaining style that served the side so well in qualifying.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile) – This winger may well be the genuine article. His trickery, pace and outstanding technique could launch him onto the world stage with a bang this summer. His potential is undoubted and should he realise it in South Africa then Chile will have a star on their hands.
Wilson Palacios (Honduras) – The Central Americans will need the Spurs midfield player to be at his athletic best if they are to contain the threat posed by the Chilean forwards. His tackling and commitment in front of the defence will be key to denying the diminutive, skilful South Americans the time and space to pick the Hondurans apart.