Dark horse Chile opens World Cup group stage with win over Australia

Chile took advantage of a sloppy Australian side early on Friday night at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba then hung on to seal the points with a 3-1 win.

Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia scored two goals in two minutes to stun the Aussies and join Holland atop Group B, deepening the woes of reigning champions Spain in the process, while Jean Beausejour got a critical goal in stoppage time to seal the win. But Chile’s decision to ease up after just half an hour nearly proved costly as a proud Aussie side rallied to claw one back and turn the second half into a wide-open contest.

Many think that Chile are the dark horses of the tournament, and on the evidence of the first fifteen minutes, those observers may well be right. La Roja came out, guns blazing, and threatened to end this game early. Sanchez started what appeared to be a procession on the 11th minute, capitalizing on some deeply suspicious defending by the Aussies. Charles Aranguiz eluded keeper Maty Ryan on the endline, drawing the goalie well out before crossing over to Valdivia to head down to a lurking Sanchez. A flailing yellow mass of arms and legs tried get in front of the shot, but it was more slapstick than "The Hangover."

Two minutes later, with the Aussies still trying to get their shorts back up to their waists, Valdivia slammed a shot over Ryan from the edge of the area after being neatly set up by Sanchez. For his troubles, he was elbowed as he wheeled away in celebration, but he didn’t seem too fussed. Chile appeared to be coasting to a win.

The problem was, Chile indeed began to coast.

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This was stupid, even against a side as poor as the Australians. They are professionals and proud, and when it became apparent the South Americans weren’t taking them seriously, they decided to remind them that the Socceroos can actually play football.

Mile Jedniak and Tim Cahill, largely consigned to the periphery of the game, began to will their side forward, taking advantage of Chile’s decision to ease up on the throttle.  First, Tommy Oar tested the waters with a couple searching efforts that were easy for Claudio Bravo, then, out of nothing in the 37th minute, Cahill was able to nod the ball up and over the keeper to make it a game again. Matthew Leckie sent in a cross that Chile simply dithered on, and Cahill, Australia’s all-time leading scorer, was unmolested as he headed it into the net. As the half drew to a close, it was the Aussies ascendant, and Chile looking suspiciously lazy.

The second half saw the Aussies push their advantage, with Mark Bresciano forcing Bravo to make a diving save at the near post off a vicious snap shot.  Cahill had the ball in the net again, but it was correctly waved off. Bresciano and Cahill combined, only to see a last-ditch tackle by Gary Medel save the day.

The only real chance Chile created in the second half came on the hour mark, when Sanchez slid Eduardo Vargas through, and as Ryan fumbled, the ball nearly trickled over the goal-line. Alex Wilkinson got to it and kicked it into the stands, and FIFA’s new goal-line technology system backed up the call; the ball had indeed not crossed the line.

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Chile finally got over the line in stoppage time, with Mauricio Pinilla forcing Ryan into parrying a shot that fell sweetly for Beausejour. It was a clinical strike, and as the Chilean bench emptied, you had to spare a thought for the battling Aussies, who simply could not make their period of dominance count.

But overall, it was a shockingly weak finish from Chile, who struggled to hold on to the ball as the match petered out and were reduced to tactical fouling in order to slow the game down. Australia, in contrast, will have their own regrets — they did not start the game strongly and in so doing, took home a defeat instead of a very fair and achievable draw.

The Aussies will gain no respite: they next play the high-flying Dutch in Porto Alegre in five days time. Chile don’t have it any easier: they take on a smarting Spanish side at the Maracana later that same day. But as it stands, the South Americans hold a slim advantage. The Aussies, in contrast, lost a game they probably had to win to have any hope of surviving this brutal group.