El Nino Maravilla (The Wonder Boy) is the undoubted star of this Chile team. The twenty-one year old winger has bags of pace, deceptive power and wonderful technique. Sanchez cost Udinese $3m as a teenager and made the move to Serie A having won the Chilean Clausura and Apertura with Colo Colo. He also starred on loan at River Plate in 2008. Since moving to Italy the diminutive Sanchez has excelled and developed an end product to accompany his varied array of tricks and flicks. He has already scored ten international goals.
The short, stocky Suazo led the line superbly during the South American qualifying process. He finished as the tournament’s top scorer with ten goals, a prolific strike rate he has made his trademark. In 2006 Suazo hit a staggering 51 goals for Colo Colo in the Chilean League, a record for that competition. Since then, this superb poacher with a bullet shot has continued to find the net with regularity in Mexico for Monterrey. A January move to Real Zaragoza saw him begin to make a mark in Europe. The only question marks that remain refer to Suazo’s temperament. He can be a destabilising force and needs to show the maturity expected of a 29 year old if he is to fulfil his potential this summer.
Matias Fernandez was hailed by many as the next big thing when Villareal paid Colo Colo almost €9m for his services in 2006. The then South American Player of the Year struggled to make an impact in Spain however and is currently seeking to rebuild his reputation with Sporting Lisbon. Despite this he remains a key player for Chile, operating as the team’s trequartista. Fernandez’s skill, vision and ability from dead balls mark him out as the perfect conductor of Chile’s short passing game and the World Cup could be the perfect stage for him to show that he is finally ready to realise his immense potential. To do this he must add consistency to his game and answer the critics who suggest that he chokes in high pressure situations.
Familiar to English fans following an ill fated spell at Liverpool; ‘Speedy’ Gonzalez has been in excellent form for CSKA Moscow and his country. The winger’s searing pace is crucial to Chile as they seek to pin down opposition full backs and stretch the play, creating space for the likes of Sanchez and Fernandez to exploit. Having grown up in South Africa, the 25 year old will be in comfortable surroundings too.
El Mago (The Magician) stood out during two years in Brazil with Palmeiras and has spent the last two years cashing in on his talent in the United Arab Emirates. Valdivia is another bad tempered Chilean playmaker who certainly offers something of an X-factor when he maintains his discipline and composure. Consistency remains a problem but his intelligence and awareness can make a difference in tight tournament games. At the very least Valdivia offers coach Marcelo Bielsa a one man plan B.
The goalkeeper took over as captain following the retirement of the legendary Marcelo Salas and was an ever present through qualifying. Chile’s attacking intent regularly leaves their goalkeeper exposed and he is often called upon to sweep up behind his back three in addition to providing a steadying presence between the sticks. Bravo plays his club football in the Spanish second tier with Real Sociedad for whom he scored with a direct free kick last season. He will be the crucial last line of defence at the World Cup should Chile stick to the attacking philosophy that has served them well so far.
Ponce has been a part of the Chile back three throughout qualification. He returned to his homeland from Argentina to play for Universidad Catolica in 2010 and remains one of the team’s more experienced defenders. At six feet tall Ponce is one of Chile’s taller defenders too and will have to play well if the team are to confound predictions that they will struggle at the set piece in South Africa. Such an attacking side are always vulnerable to swift counter attacks too and question marks remain as to Chile’s defensive solidity. Ponce will be looking to impress on the biggest stage after a poor loan spell at Wolfsburg damaged his reputation in Europe six years ago.