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.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.