Young players from the streets, inspirational coach Marcelo Bielsa and Reggaeton music blaring loudly in the team bus have invigorated Chile, who are out to impress after a 12-year World Cup absence.
Chile’s squad, which has the youngest average age of all the South American teams, boasts one of the World Cup’s potential stars in 21-year-old forward Alexis Sanchez, midfielder Rodrigo Tello told Reuters.
Sanchez, who plays for Italy’s Udinese, has scored three times in his last four Serie A outings.
“We have a lot of players who have a lot of hunger, they want to play like they did in the street before, at home,” said Tello, whose name reverberated around Europe in November when his goal secured Turkey’s Besiktas a 1-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford which ended the Premier League side’s 23-match unbeaten home record in the Champions League stretching back to 2005.
“They like putting on Reggaeton music in the team bus,” he added with a wry smile, referring to a blend of Reggae, Latin music and Spanish-language rap.
At 30 and a family man, he is one of the veterans in the squad having won a bronze medal with Chile at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
“We have a very young team and we are working with a new coach who has changed our mentality. We had a very tough qualifying and now all the Chilean people expect a lot from us.”
Bielsa coached his native Argentina between 1998 and 2004.
“He is very professional. He is a big name who changed everything for Chile and we get very good instructions from him,” said Tello.
Chile face Spain, Switzerland and Honduras in Group H and will play Honduras first on June 16 in Nelspruit.
“Spain are favourites to win the group, so we will fight for the second place so we can get to the next round.”
Chile stand at 15 in the FIFA world rankings, well ahead of Switzerland at 26 and Honduras in 40th spot. Tello thinks they could go as far as the quarter-finals.
The South Americans have appeared in seven World Cup finals, achieving their best performance — third place — when they hosted the tournament in 1962.
In France in 1998 they came second in their group but lost 4-1 to Brazil in the last 16.
“Chile does not have a lot of history in the World Cup but now we will wait and see,” said Tello.
“Now people are saying that Chile could be surprise, we have a lot of expectations for a very good World Cup.”
(Editing by Justin Palmer
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