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World Cup: Spain-Chile Match Preview

Match preview for Wednesday's World Cup clash between Spain and Chile.

Harold Cunningham

Having experienced as much success as this Spanish national team has, their 5-1 loss in their World Cup opener against Holland was nothing short of remarkable. For La Furia Roja to advance, they must win against Chile, a team that in large part is designed to dismantle's Spain's possession game. The two sides met in a friendly back in September, in which saw a 2-2 final score, thanks to a last-minute equalizer from Jesus Navas (who's been excluded from Spain's World Cup roster).

Under Jorge Sampaoli, Chile have revitalized their style of play. Sampaoli, like Guardiola, Martino, and others, is a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa and his high-pressing, attack-oriented brand of football. The Argentinian won three league titles and a Copa Sudamericana in a three-year spell at Universidad de Chile before being appointed manager of the Chilean national team in 2013.

Prior to Sampaoli's arrival, Chile were languishing mid-table in the CONMEBOL qualifiers. La Roja had dropped six straight (including friendlies) under former coach Claudio Borghi before firing him in November of 2012. Upon Sampoli's appointment, Chile won five of their last seven qualifiers, and stormed into the World Cup as one the most in-form sides in international football.

Against Spain, Chile will look to continue their high-pressing game, of which gave Del Bosque's side fits against Holland. Xabi Alonso and Xavi, good as they are, have a combined 244 international caps, and are hardly the dynamic players they used to be. Despite being what Sid Lowe called "the most important figure in the history of Spanish football," Xavi is unable to influence games the way he used to, and is a major liability in defensive transition.

Del Bosque plays a high defensive line, with inverted midfield wingers and attacking full-backs. But with the poor positional play of Spain's midfield (namely, Xavi), their widely known vulnerability to counter-attacks has become significantly increased. With players like Koke and Cesc Fàbregas at Del Bosque's disposal, the former Real Madrid manager would do well to consider his alternatives.

There is a sizable benefit in deploying a player like Koke, not just for his work-rate against Chile's high-press, but for his understanding with Diego Costa, who may prove vital with more space to run into against Sampaoli's favored high-line. With no other natural vertical outlets, Costa's involvement in the game is more important than ever, if Spain want to recover their embarrassing 5-1 loss.

Chile, as stated, remain red-hot, and are coming off an impressive 3-1 win in their opener against Australia. Alexis Sanchez has developed into a world-class player under Sampaoli, and is undoubtedly La Roja's most important player. The Barcelona man plays a central free-roam role, allowing him more creative freedom in the final third, something he doesn't get at the Camp Nou. For Barcelona, Alexis plays wide, and abides by certain positional restrictions that perhaps inhibits him from influencing games the way he's capable of.  If Spain are to survive this, it is imperative Del Bosque figure out a way to contain the Chilean playmaker. Selecting a more mobile center-back like Javi Martínez (in place of Gerard Piqué) is a solution that Del Bosque would do well to consider.

Ultimately, this is not just a must-win game for Spain, but exists as a potential turning-point if Spain want to advance not just in this tournament, but long-term ahead of what could be the end of Xavi's international career. Like Barcelona, how Spain evolve post-Xavi is imperative to their long-term success. If Del Bosque can get over his loyalty and nostalgia, Spain has what it takes to lift the trophy in São Paulo. If not, La Furia Roja may be in for another rude awakening.

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