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2014 World Cup Team Preview: Chile

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Getting to know… Chile
Chile won hearts in South Africa with a frantic style built around then-head coach Marcelo Bielsa’s desire to play the game in his opponent’s half. Four years later, the influential boss has moved on, but his legacy remains. Jorge Sampaoli, a Bielsa disciple that took Chilean club Universidad de Chile to continental success, has made the country’s national team a squad nobody wants to face – a nation that many are picking to get out of its group despite the presence of Spain and the Netherlands.

That draw, as well as a possible meeting with Brazil in the Round of 16, means Chile are unlikely to rewrite its speckled history at World Cups. Though the nation has a third place finish on its résumé (when they hosted in 1962), that was the only time La Roja made it beyond the first knockout round. While 2010’s 10th place finish was its best since 1962, it was the first time in three tournaments the Chileans qualified for the World Cup. This year’s appearance marks only the second time the team has appeared in back-to-back finals.

Record in qualifying

Going undefeated in their last six qualifiers, Chile surged to third place in South America’s nine-team, double round-robin tournament, losing only once after Sampaoli replaced Bielsa’s successor, Claudio Borghi. Though the team’s 25 goals conceded was tied for most amongst the region’s qualified teams, only Columbia managed to score multiple goals in qualifying against Chile after the former “La U” boss took over in Dec. 2012.

Group B

Defending world champion Spain is the favorite in one of the World Cup’s toughest groups, but on South American soil, it’s possible the Chileans can play Atlético Madrid to the Spaniards’ Barcelona. The Netherlands are the group’s other big name, but transitioning in new talent after a disappointing Euro 2012, the Oranje could be on track for a third place finish. Full points against Australia, the group’s weak link, may prove crucial.

Game schedule

Friday, June 13 at 5 p.m. ET: Chile vs. Australia (Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre)

Wednesday, June 18 at 3 p.m. ET: Chile vs. Spain (Estádio do Maracaña, Ro de Janeiro)

Monday, June 25 at 12 noon ET: Netherlands vs. Chile (Arena de São Paulo, São Paulo)

Star player
Since moving to Juventus from Bayer Leverkusen, Arturo Vidal has proven to be one of the best midfielders in the world – a box-to-box presence that can compete in the air or on the ground while playing an advanced, central, or defending role. For Sampaoli, Vidal looks most likely to play behind the strikers in a 3-4-1-2 formation, a role that will prove crucial to converting turnovers won high up the field into chances on the opponents’ goal.

Manager
After a decade as a head coach at club level, mostly in Peru and Chile, Sampaoli was appointed Chile’s national team head coach with the hope he would revive the spirit of Bielsa. Under Borghi, Chile had lost its way and was in danger of staying in the bottom half of South America’s competitive qualifying tournament. Once Sampaoli brought the team back to its core principles, Chile resumed the menacing success it had under last cycle’s boss.

Best known for his Copa Sudamericana-winning success with Universidad de Chile, Sampaoli won three straight domestic tournaments with the Chilean powerhouse before moving into the international area. Leading his team to a 2013 surge, the 54-year-old Argentine has Chile up to 13th in FIFA’s World Ranking – the second-best ranking in Group B.

Secret weapon
Eduardo Vargas isn’t a secret, but for those who saw him fail to make an impact with Napoli, the fact that he’s a weapon may be news. Reunited with the head coach who fostered his success in Chile, the 24-year-old attacker his regained his stride, as evidenced by his two goals against Egypt on May 30. Expected to start with Alexis Sánchez up top, the recent Valencia man has a chance to reclaim some of his faded reputation as well continue a strike rate that’s produced 13 goals in 29 international appearances.

Prediction
None of Chile’s group games are unwinnable, and with a knockout round matchup against Brazil looming for the group’s second place finisher, an upset over Spain would prove particularly valuable. Even if La Roja can’t derail the champions, the team has every reason to expect a fourth game. Missing out to either of the group’s transitioning squads should be seen as a significant disappointment.

Robbie Keane still entertaining offers ahead of return

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Soccer Player Robbie Keane arrives at the Premiere of IFC Films' "Pele: Birth Of A Legend" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
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Robbie Keane is still sorting out his future, and it seems unlikely he’s heading back to the past.

Keane is training in Dublin ahead of a return to the pitch. The 36-year-old striker left the LA Galaxy this offseason, and says he’s had several offers from Championship squads in England as well as a few clubs abroad.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Although he’s starred for Wolverhampton and Leeds, destinations where fans would welcome his arrival, Keane says not to hold your breath.

From TalkSport.com:

“I’ve had a lot of people asking me about coming back to Leeds and Wolves, and they’re great clubs I’ve played for, but you can’t go somewhere if people actually don’t offer you anything.

“Until it’s actually in writing to me I can’t comment much on it, but I definitely haven’t heard from Leeds or Wolves.”

Whether Stateside or in England, Keane can still have an impact on a team’s fortunes. We look forward to seeing him back on the field, and to hear some more quips as well.

Consider his answer to whether he’d entertain an offer from China:

“If they gave the money Diego Costa was offered, I’d walk there now,” Keane said.

Galaxy adds center mid from Portuguese top flight

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LA Galaxy’s roster reformation continues with the addition of Joao Pedro, a day after formalizing a deal with USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones.

The 23-year-old center midfielder was with Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal’s top flight, and comes to the club as a “Special Discovery Player” with Targeted Allocation Money.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Pedro has a goal in 17 appearances this season, as Vitoria Guimaraes sits fifth in the Primeira Liga.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“Joao is an extremely talented midfielder who has experience playing at a high level in Portugal,” said Galaxy general manager Peter Vagenas in a written statement released by the club.

“He is only 23 years old and has the best years of his career front of him. We identified him as a top target this offseason and we think he can immediately help strengthen our midfield. We look forward to welcoming Joao to Los Angeles as we continue to prepare for the upcoming season.”

Pedro was a regular for Vitoria Guimaraes but is far from a certainty to star for the Galaxy. We do know that Vagenas has probably done his research as to whether Pedro fits with Jermaine Jones.

AFCON wrap: Senegal clinches first knockout round slot

Senegal's, Sadio Mane, right, is challenged by Zimbabwe's, Willard Katsande, left, during the African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match between Senegal and Zimbabwe at, Stade de Franceville Stadium, in Franceville, Gabon Thursday Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Senegal has advanced to the knockout rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations, leaving three teams to work for the second Group B slot come the final day.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Senegal 2-0 Zimbabwe

Sadio Mane (Liverpool) and Henri Saivet (Saint-Etienne) scored within the first 13 minutes as Senegal clinched Group B with a win over Zimbabwe. There were 48 shots between the two teams, 24 for Senegal, in a fairly open affair. As for the Warriors, they’ll need to beat Tunisia on Monday.

Algeria 1-2 Tunisia

Tunisia rebounded from a loss to Senegal without scoring from the run of play. Lille mid Naim Sliti scored a penalty after an Algeria own goal made it 1-0. Anderlecht midfielder Sofiane Hanni scored for Algeria.

Friday’s matches
Ivory Coast vs. DR Congo — 11 a.m. ET
Morocco vs. Togo — 11 a.m. ET

Wenger concerned Chinese wages become benchmark for players

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping the high quality of competition in Europe will keep players from leaving for the financial gain in China.

Wenger is facing regular questions about the future of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the big money on offer in the Chinese league can complicate negotiations.

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Argentine striker Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua last month in a deal worth $40 million over two years.

“The danger (is) that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said Thursday. “You cannot compete with that, but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.”

Wenger said players that want the best compensation for playing in the best quality league need not look to Asia.

“I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League,” Wenger said.

Wenger, whose team is fourth in the standings, has made only one signing in the January transfer window, picking up defender Cohen Bramall from non-league club Hednesford.

Arsenal has also decided to keep captain Per Mertesacker for another season. Wenger announced Thursday that the club has taken up a one-year option to extend the contract of the 32-year-old German, who has not played this season because of a knee injury sustained during a friendly in July.

Mertesacker faces a fight to get back into the team because Shkodran Mustafi, an offseason signing from Valencia, has built a strong partrnership with vice captain Laurent Koscielny at the heart of Wenger’s defense.