Make it two in a row for Chile. La Roja are heading to their second straight World Cup after a qualifying campaign that had its fare shares of highs and lows, including a coaching change, but their recent form seems to indicate that they are peaking at just the right time.
They are one of the world's most fascinating teams, tactically speaking. They high-pressed their way through qualifying, and often looked distinctly European once they hit the open field.
WORLD CUP PROSPECTS
This is the darkhorse you're looking for. Chile seem to have all the pieces in place to pull off some big upsets, and an outside shot to make it all the way to the semifinals. They've been there once before - when they were hosts in 1962 - but haven't won a single knockout round contest in the 52 years since then.
They have the firepower and poise to do so this time around, provided they get out of the group. Their relentless pressing style could wear down even the Spaniards, and the Dutch are almost always a good bet to crack under any amount of strain. But high pressure is also a risk: leave a gap open at the back, and any team in the tournament can slice you open.
Of concern: Arturo Vidal missed a good chunk of time near the end of the season with a knee injury. If he can't be the most influential midfielder on the pitch, then Chile will need to recalibrate their hopes.
GROUP B SCHEDULE
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Alexis Sánchez, F, Barcelona: A technically gifted winger who is usually tasked with leading the attack, Sánchez provided four goals in qualifying and was a constant threat for a Chile side that had the second-highest scoring offense in CONMEBOL this cycle. He is an exceptional athlete who is impossible to catch in the open field. The key to stopping him? Make sure he doesn't get there.
Vidal, M, Juventus: If you're going to win the World Cup, you need to have someone who's in the argument for "best player in the world." Vidal is Chile's man for that discussion. Ok, we'll admit the 26-year-old isn't in the class of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but when healthy he's at the head of the chasing pack, and there simply isn't another central midfielder who can do everything he does at such a high level.
Claudio Bravo, GK, Real Sociedad: Bravo is as experienced a player as Chile currently has and that is why he is the team’s captain. If not for the seasoned goalkeeper, Chile likely would have surrendered more than the 25 goals they conceded in qualifying. He will be tested repeatedly, and if he falters then this darkhorse run will be cut short.
Jorge Sampaoli’s first international foray has so far proved to be a successful one. Sampaoli was hired on Dec. 3, 2012 after Chile sustained some mixed results in qualifying, and he led La Roja to an impressive 5-1-1 record in their final seven qualifiers to claim third place in CONMEBOL.
A former defensive midfielder, Sampaoli had coached various clubs throughout South America before being chosen as Chile’s manager. He was most recently at the helm of Universidad de Chile, but has also coached Ecuadorian side Emelec and Peruvian outfit Sporting Cristal.
He's a devotee of Marcelo Bielsa, the legendary Argentine tactician who elevated the high press to an artform.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 9-6-1, 28 pts. / 29 GF, 25 GA (3rd place in South America)
After a topsy-turvy start, Chile finished qualifying in impressive form. They scored more goals in South America than anyone save Argentina, but their defense was a bit suspect and could use some more fine-tuning ahead of their trip to Brazil.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
The Chileans have reached consecutive World Cups for the first time since doing so back in 1962 – when they earned third place on home soil – and 1966. They enjoyed a strong performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, reaching the round of 16, and they could be poised to surpass that achievement when they take their relatively short trip to Brazil next summer.
PRELIMINARY WORLD CUP ROSTERChile hold a slight advantage over the US men’s national team with a 4-3-2 overall record. They are winless in the two nations’ last four meetings (0-3-1). … The last encounter between the two came in January 2011, a 1-1 draw in Carson, Calif. … Central defender Marcos Gonzalez played two seasons with the Columbus Crew in MLS. He has made 29 appearances for La Roja, and at 33 is the old man of the defensive corps. ... Current Vancouver Whitecaps DP Pedro Morales (right) has 11 caps and 3 goals for Chile, and was part of the squad that qualified for the 2010 World Cup. He has not figured into Sampaoli's plans, however. ... Former Colorado Rapids midfielder Kevin Harbottle is from Chile and earned one cap back in 2010. … Former Chile national team player Marcelo Vega spent a couple of the last years of his career with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars and San Jose Earthquakes back in the late 1990s. … Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy spent the 2007 and 2008 seasons playing for Chilean club Municipal Iquique.
Defenders: Gary Medel (Cardiff City), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), Marcos Gonzalez (Union Espanola), Enzo Andia (Universidad Catolica), Jose Rojas (Universidad de Chile), Eugenio Mena (Santos), Mauricio Isla (Juventus).
Midfielders: Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras), Felipe Gutierrez (Twente), Rodrigo Millar (Atlas), Jose Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo Colo), Pablo Hernandez (O'Higgins), Matias Fernandez (Fiorentina), Francisco Silva (Osasuna), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Charles Aranguiz (Internacional), Marcelo Diaz (Basel), Carlos Carmona (Atalanta), Miiko Albornoz (Malmo), Jean Beausejour (Wigan Athletic)