Ahead of this summer’s Copa America tournament, Sports Mole previews Chile’s chances as they seek a first title in five years.

Following a tough start to their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, Chile‘s 2015 and 2016 Copa America wins have never looked more distant, with the nation’s back-to-back victories looking more like a surprising episode than an era of sustained superiority.

Nonetheless, La Roja come into this tournament as dark horses, who, along with Uruguay, represent one of the few sides outside the heavyweight duo of Brazil and Argentina who are in with a shout of winning the competition.

Chile's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on June 3, 2021© Reuters

Yet, Chile are not the side they once were and that is largely because they are exactly the side they once were, with the squad having changed very little in the last five years.

In fact, six players that beat Argentina in the 2016 final are still mainstays in this team five years later, with national legend Alexis Sanchez still leading the line, Gary Medel still bossing the defence and skipper Claudio Bravo still between the sticks for La Roja.

Now, that is not to say that those players are not world-class footballers, but together they have a combined age of 103 and the country is yet to birth a generation of younger players who are even remotely as good as the current crop.

One man who does not appear too concerned by Chile’s ageing squad is head coach Martin Lasarte, who will hope the country’s old guard have what it takes to muster one last dance in the continent’s most prominent international tournament.

Here, Sports Mole assesses Chile’s chances at the Copa America.


GROUP

Chile will be put to the test immediately in Group B, with an opening game against Argentina looking like a fine visual spectacle for neutrals around the world.

Copa America Group A

However, whether the likes of Medel, Mauricio Isla and Eugenio Mena have enough energy in the tank to keep tabs on the attacking duo of Lionel Messi and Lautaro Martinez remains to be seen.

Following that baptism of fire, Chile go on to face Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay in subsequent fixtures.

In addition to the games themselves, another challenge for Chile will be playing four games in under two weeks, with Lasarte’s squad lacking depth in key areas.

FIXTURES

June 14: Argentina vs. Chile (10pm BST, Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro)
June 18: Chile vs. Bolivia (10pm BST, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba)
June 21: Uruguay vs. Chile (10pm BST, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba)
June 25: Chile vs. Paraguay (1am BST, Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasilia)


RECENT FORM

Despite blowing hot and cold over the last year, Chile never fail to give 100% in every game, typically fighting until the death to come out on top or at least prevent the opposition from winning at all costs.

Chile's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on June 4, 2021© Reuters

Since their third-place playoff defeat to Argentina in July 2019, Chile have only lost three out of 11 games, keeping that sense of tireless determination well and truly alive and kicking.

La Roja have won just one game so far in 2021, having drawn their most recent World Cup qualifiers against Argentina and Bolivia.

Registering just one shot on target against rivals Argentina, a draw was the best result for Chile, however La Roja were far better than Bolivia earlier this week and deserved the three points in that tie.


SQUAD

Chile players line up on June 4, 2021© Reuters

Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Betis), Gabriel Arias (Racing), Gabriel Castellon (Huachipato)

Defenders: Gary Medel (Bologna), Mauricio Isla (Flamengo), Jean Beausejour (Coquimbo Unido), Eugenio Mena (Racing), Guillermo Maripan (Monaco), Sebastian Vegas (Monterrey), Enzo Roco (Fatih Karagumruk), Francisco Sierralta (Watford), Yonathan Andia (Universidad de Chile)

Midfielders: Arturo Vidal (Inter Milan), Charles Aranguiz (Bayer Leverkusen), Luis Jimenez (Palestino), Erick Pulgar (Fiorentina), Cesar Pinares (Gremio), Claudio Baeza (Toluca), Bryan Carrasco (Palestino), Pablo Galdames (Velez Sarsfield), Tomas Alarcon (O’Higgins), Juan Leiva (Universidad Catolica)

Forwards: Alexis Sanchez (Inter Milan), Eduardo Vargas (Atletico Mineiro), Fabian Orellana (Valladolid), Felipe Mora (Portland Timbers), Jean Menses (Leon), Carlos Palacios (Internacional), Clemente Montes (Universidad Catolica), Ben Brereton (Blackburn Rovers)


STAR PLAYER – Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez pictured for Chile in June 2021© Reuters

The man dubbed El Nino Maravilla by his countrymen is the most successful player in Chile’s history and the 32-year-old remains the most important cog of the team, even though his club form has waned in recent years.

As the country’s all-time top goalscorer (45) and all-time appearance holder (136), Sanchez is so popular in Chile that a statue was erected in his honour in his native town of Tocopilla.

Sanchez registered four goals during the 2015 and 2016 Copa America campaigns and along with his partner in crime, Eduardo Vargas, he was hugely influential in this country’s mid-2010s successes.

Largely known for his three-and-a-half season stint at Arsenal, where he scored 80 goals for the North London club, Sanchez has found it difficult to replicate that form at Inter Milan, leading many to the conclusion that the striker’s decline is very much underway.

Yet, unlike some players, Sanchez has always relished his illustrious La Roja career and nothing appears to get him in the mood like an international tournament.

Does Sanchez have what it takes to roll back the years for one last dance?


MANAGER – Martin Lasarte

Chile manager Martin Lasarte reacts on June 4, 2021© Reuters

A popular figure in Chilean football, Martin Lasarte – known lovingly as Machete (a reference to his playing days) – has a solid managerial record, having won titles in Egypt, Spain and his native Uruguay.

Appointed in early February in preparation for this tournament and World Cup qualification, Lasarte’s approach to coaching is defined by his pragmatic style of game management and impetus on defensive rigidity.

Lasarte’s style will no doubt mean that this Chile team will be more counterattacking in their approach and the likes of Medel, Isla and Mena will have to be confident in soaking up pressure from more energetic and well-rounded sides.

Prior to his appointment for Chile, Lasarte has enjoyed somewhat of a globe-trotting journeyman career in management, having worked for clubs such as Real Sociedad in Spain, River Plate in Argentina and Nacional in Uruguay.


COPA AMERICA RECORD

Best finish: Winners (2015, 2016)

Chile celebrate winning the 2016 Copa America© Reuters

In an era that will no doubt live long in the memories of Chileans around the globe, few will forget the time Chile made it back-to-back Copa America wins in 2015 and 2016.

In a continent that is generally so dominated by the footballing powerhouse nations of Brazil and Argentina, Chile’s rise was a breath of fresh air for South American football and the global game in general.

After beating Argentina in the final on penalties in 2015, Chile pushed on into the Centenario – the Copa America which celebrated 100 years of the competition – and did exactly the same again, with Argentina once again beaten at the last hurdle on penalties.

With Argentina losing their third consecutive final and Lionel Messi announcing his retirement from the international game, Chile were over the moon, celebrating long into the night.

Everybody loves an underdog story, and there were few who pulled it off better than La Roja during those two years.


PREDICTION

Looking at the attacking talent that Chile still have at their disposal, it is difficult to bet against them, but despite La Roja undoubtedly being able to beat anyone on the day, this tournament will be intense, and it remains to be seen whether this ageing side has the legs to go the distance.

Yet, Chile appear to relish the underdog status and that might suit them coming into this tie.

We expect Chile to reach the semi-final and then go no further, but we do not doubt for one second that Sanchez and Vargas will bang in as many as they can along the way.

VERDICT: Semi-finals

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