Copa America 2019: Chile | Final Squad, Preview and Fixtures
Time and tide waits for no man, both in life and in football. The Chilean national team can attest to this age-old adage like none other. In a space of five years between 2014 and 2019, La Roja went from basking in the glory of successive Copa America triumphs (2015, 2016) to plummet down to earth when they missed the plane to Russia for the World Cup.
While the current generation of Chile supporters can reminisce fondly upon the country’s ‘Golden generation’ for years to come, the Nelson Cabrera fiasco will remind them that football can be cruel sometimes.
After Juan Antonio Pizzi called it a day during Chile’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, La Roja was helmed by Reinaldo Rueda. The Colombian boss certainly boasts a wealth of international management experience.
Rueda’s first stint in national colors occurred for his native Colombian youth teams which included the U-17, U-20, U-21 and U-23 sides.
He was the driving force behind the U-21 outfit’s 2001 Toulon Tournament victory and the former Medellin man made history by becoming the first manager to secure qualification for the Colombian U-20 team at the 2003 U-20 World Cup.
Rueda made the step up to the senior team and kickstarted an upturn in form for Los Cafeteros from languishing near the bottom of the CONEMBOL standings to clinching sixth place. Apart from that, he was also the brain behind Honduras’ second-time appearance in the 2006 World Cup.
The ex-Flamengo gaffer’s CV reveals his keen eye for youth talent and know-how on dictating the dynamics of a national dressing room.
However, tasked with the job of going toe-to-toe with South America’s crème-de-la-crème, having a squad that is way past its best at his disposal is no mean feat for Rueda. Alarmingly, a meagre seven players in Chile’s 23-man squad play for European clubs, which paints the picture of the sorry state of affairs of the La Roja.
Despite all the signs pointing towards an underwhelming Copa America bout, Chile possess pedigree in abundance.
Their back-to-back tournament triumphs which involved toppling a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina side in two finals and opening the exit door for then-defending champions, Spain, in the 2014 World Cup epitomize the fact that the Chileans never back down from a fight.
It would be naïve to discount them as a handful opposition on the day, irrespective of their fall from grace.
Placed alongside Uruguay, Ecuador and Japan in Group D, Rueda’s men are well-placed to secure second spot and progress to the knockout rounds. Ultimately, their hopes rest on the ability of the squad to join heads and repeat history.
Goalkeepers: Bryan Cortes, Gabriel Arias, Yerko Urra.
Defenders: Igor Lichnovsky, Guillermo Maripan, Mauricio Isla, Paulo Diaz, Jean Beausejour, Gary Medel (c), Gonzalo Jara, Oscar Opazo.
Midfielders: Jose Pedro Fuenzalida, Arturo Vidal, Diego Valdes, Erick Pulgar, Esteban Pavez, Pedro Pablo Hernandez, Charles Aranguiz.
Forwards: Alexis Sanchez, Nicolas Castillo, Eduardo Vargas, Junior Fernandes, Angelo Sagal.
Since his arrival at Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez has looked a shadow of his former self. Notching up an abysmal three goals in 32 appearances at Old Trafford, the former Arsenal forward’s drastic dip in form is perhaps one of football’s most alarming questions.
Despite his career in a red shirt heading south, there is no denying that Sanchez’s exploits for Chile have been nothing short of enigmatic.
Whether it may be his nerves of steel to seal the Copa America 2015 final against Argentina with a Panenka penalty or his three goals and two assists on the road to winning the Golden Ball in the tournament’s following edition, the Chilean No.7 has shown that he is a man for the biggest occasions.
If La Roja stand any chance of coming close to replicating their past successes, Sanchez must roll back the years to his imperious best and carry the weight of his side’s expectations on his shoulders.
For United’s fallen soldier, it is not only a matter of national glory at stake, but also personal pride. With redemption on the line, Sanchez has the perfect platform to remind his doubters of the lionhearted displays that took him to the top in the first place.
Much like Sanchez’s faltering fate, Arturo Vidal’s stock has massively nosedived following his move from Bayern Munich to Barcelona. The uncompromising box-to-box midfielder is the anthesis of a Blaugrana signing that is deployed in the middle of the park.
His tough-tackling and neck-on-the-line style of play made his acquisition an absurd one, considering Barcelona’s possession-based system.
With only 11 league starts under his belt, question marks over his future have been aplenty and a temporary change of scenery in Brazil is bound to do Vidal a world of good.
Regardless of his struggles under Ernesto Valverde, Vidal is far from finished and his warrior-like mindset is pivotal to Chile’s hopes of resurgence from the disappointment of missing out on the 2018 World Cup.
The former Juventus midfielder forms the core of La Roja’s dogged approach to getting over the line against opposition that possess superior flair players. Apart from that, his leadership abilities will only drive his troops to leave it all out on the pitch for the Chilean cause.
On his day, Vidal is undeniably world-class, however it would be intriguing to see how a fighter of the Chilean’s ilk reacts to the pressure of delivering at such a major platform on the back of a dissatisfactory campaign.
Eduardo Vargas falls under a reserved list of names that have opposed the norm by enjoying fruitful international careers and never truly stamping their authority at club level. There are not many bigger clutch players than Vargas in Chilean history.
From opening the scoring against Spain to ultimately secure Chile’s qualification to the last 16 in the 2014 World Cup, a decisive brace in the Copa America 2015 against Peru in semi-finals, to bagging the Golden Boot at the competition’s following edition, Vargas has stepped up for La Roja when it mattered most.
The Tigres winger proved his mettle in the recent tie against Haiti where he slotted a cool finish past the goalkeeper to level the proceedings.
To simply state that Vargas is in fine form based on one goal is jumping the gun considering his tumultuous club career, but if he has proven anything throughout his time in a Chilean shirt, it is that he can spur his country on to greatness.
Chile-Copa America 2019 Fixtures
Monday, June 17: Chile v Japan
Friday, June 21: Chile v Ecuador
Monday, June 24: Chile v Uruguay