NATIONAL SPORTS

Down but not out: Chile and the 2022 World Cup

Chile’s national football team is teetering on the edge of extinction from the FIFA World Cup. If it falls, this would be its second consecutive failure to qualify – humiliating for a country that had the most dominant footballers in South America in 2017. Can Chile still qualify for the 2022 World Cup?

Chile’s issues began as its “golden generation” started to wane. Perfect examples of this are Alexis Sánchez and Claudio Bravo, who soon after the Copa America victory in 2016 were no longer able to command a place in the starting XI of Europe’s elite teams. The exception who proves the rule is Arturo Vidal: he continues to perform at a very high level.

Chile has therefore started to rely more heavily on individual talent and flair and less on team cohesion – a far cry from 2016 when the team always came first. Chile is now incredibly (some might say, “too”) reliant on striker Ben Breteron Diaz for goals. 

The desire to revive the Chilean national team and create a new “golden generation” also has Chile looking abroad for eligible players. 

In addition, whereas Chile previously succeeded by having its managers adapt to the players, not seeking to change the existing philosophy and identity, now current manager Martin Lasarte is trying to bend the players to his will, because the aging squad is no longer able to play compact football effectively.

It might also be fair to say the team’s decline is due to exhaustion: Chile had to play four consecutive international tournaments between 2014 and 2017, which arguably left it fatigued heading into the 2018 qualification.

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The “golden generation” peaked five years ago

The Chilean national team in 2016 had great chemistry and played an intense and hard-fought style of football that did not allow the opposition any freedom to play. The team also benefited from a “golden generation” of players, including the likes of Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, and Claudio Bravo, who had played together in the junior teams.

The “golden generation” peaked in 2016. The national team won the Copa America in consecutive years against Argentina. The back-to-back losses were so frustrating for the traditional South American footballing heavyweight Argentina that Lionel Messi announced his international retirement after the 2016 final. 

Now the team is struggling

Currently the Chilean national team is languishing in 8th place in the South American World Cup qualification group and is far off the 5th place needed to secure a playoff spot. Worse still, Chile has lost 10 of its last 12 games in all competitions. 

There is hope that the upcoming home fixtures will give the team the opportunity to move back into contention for the playoffs – home advantage is very important in South America. 

Although the team’s own efforts could carry it into sixth place, it will need to rely on the results of other games if it wants to reach that vital fifth position for the playoffs. 

Chile will be pleased that Uruguay lost to Argentina recently, and will be relying on further slip-ups from Uruguay and Colombia. 

Given the packed schedule, fatigue and injuries could also help Chile. Other nations are already injury-laden and suffering from bad form. It is not unrealistic that Chile could reach fifth position.

The table at the moment of writing:

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