A seasoned and explosive Chilean squad was supposed to easily handle Australia in Group B play Friday at Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil, but ongoing questions surrounding star midfielder Arturo Vidal’s health could put a scare into Chile’s World Cup hopes.
Inflammation in Vidal’s right knee following surgery to repair his meniscus last month has left his status for the opening match up in the air.
Should the Juventus star responsible for eight international goals sit out, much of Chile’s attack will rest on the shoulders of striker Alexis Sanchez and winger Eduardo Vargas. Sanchez has netted 22 goals in 66 international appearances for Chile since 2006, and Vargas has chipped in 14 in 30 matches over four years.
As for who will feed Chile’s two best scorers, the burden likely falls to midfielders Charles Aranguiz and Felipe Guiterrez. Spending a year on loan with Internacional, Aranguis is just as likely to charge the penalty area and finish runs as much as passing off to Sanchez or Vargas. Guiterrez will likely stick to his role as facilitator, with Arganuis sliding back and forth between responsibilities in the attack.
Even with Vidal out, Australia, the lowest ranked team in Brazil this year, was expected to struggle during the World Cup, but the inexperienced squad and manager Ange Postecoglou have no plans to lie down.
"Our belief in what we do will get tested at some point during the game," Postecoglou said to SBS.
"There are quality individuals and quality teams who will try to break us. If we get through that battle and grow as the game goes on, the confidence will grow.
"For a lot of these players it's their first go at the big stage and I'm sure there's a little bit of uncertainty in their heads. If we can get through those initial moments we'll be fine."
Postecoglou believes in his squad, but Chile has won three of its four matches against Australia.
Australia goalkeeper Maty Ryan faces a very difficult task against the Chileans, but backline mates Matthew Spiranovic, Alex Wilkinson, Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson can help their netminder by snuffing out attacks early in midfield.
Elder statesman and midfielder Mark Bresciano is expected to lead the Aussie’s offense. The 34-year-old has scored 13 goals in 74 career appearances for Australia.
Australia hopes to escape the group stage for the second time in its history, the last coming in 2006.
Start Time: Friday, 6 p.m. EST
TV Channel: ESPN2
Live Online Stream Info: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here.
Betting Odds: Chile -1
Over/Under: 2.5 goals
Prediction: Chile over Australia 3-0