SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile has assembled the best lineup it has ever taken to the World Cup, and has been placed in one of the toughest groups.
Facing defending champion Spain and 2010 finalist Netherlands in Group B, just reaching the knockout round would be considered a major success.
“The margin for error is zero,” Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli said. “It’s a very complicated group due to the traits of the rivals. Obviously playing against such important European teams, against the last world champion, will be tough.”
With world-class players including Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez, Chile’s recent record is impressive. It finished third in South American qualifying, had a draw with Spain and beat England in friendlies, and lost only two of 15 games last year.
A 1-0 loss to Germany in March convinced Sampaoli that his team can contend.
“We can compete against anybody the way we played today,” Sampaoli said after the match. “We can have a World Cup performance that Chile deserves.”
Part of Chile’s optimism is based around having a forward like Sanchez.
“Lots of people talk about Chile, but we have to be good each time and show it on the field,” Sanchez said. “We have a lot of top players in Europe.”
Chile placed third when it hosted the 1962 World Cup, but hadn’t qualified for two consecutive tournaments until now. In its last two appearances – in 1998 and 2010 – it reached the round of 16.
At the 2010 tournament in South Africa, Chile beat Switzerland and Honduras and lost to eventual champion Spain 2-1 in the group stage, and then lost to Brazil 3-0 in the second round.
If Chile gets through the group stage again, it could again meet Brazil in the second round.
“The draw didn’t favor us,” Chilean football association president Sergio Jadue said. “We’ve never won the World Cup, or even the continental championship.”
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao