Nelspruit: Chile face Honduras in their opening Group H match on Wednesday on the 48th anniversary of their last World Cup victory with a golden opportunity to rid themselves of an unwanted record.
It was on June 16, 1962, that the hosts beat Yugoslavia in the third-place playoff in Santiago. Chile have since been to four World Cups, played 13 matches and failed to win again.
The current generation of Chilean players come to South Africa determined to put that record straight, and their form in the qualifying campaign suggests they can do far more than simply win one match at these finals.
They finished second in the South American group, just a point behind Brazil and five points ahead of Argentina. They also scored a hatful of goals, and start as favourites to beat a Honduras side missing one, and perhaps two, key strikers.
“The fact that Chile haven’t won a match at a World Cup for a long time, for me personally, and I think for the team as a whole, is of secondary importance,” Chile defender Gonzalo Jara said on Monday.
“Obviously, we know (about the record) but the first match is fundamental, above all to see how we are and to get the three points. Whether we win 3-0 or 1-0 it’s the same.
“Getting the three points and playing like we want to play, that’s the important thing,” he added.
Coach Marcelo Bielsa is waiting on the fitness of his leading striker Humberto Suazo, who beat the likes of Brazil’s Luis Fabiano and Uruguay’s Diego Forlan to finish as South America’s top scorer in the qualifiers with 10 goals.
Suazo is recovering from a hamstring injury and has been training at the team base near Nelspruit.
But the coach might decide to rest him anyway for a match Chile will fancy their chances of winning. If he does, Esteban Paredes is set to start in the centre of a three-pronged attack.
Honduras are also waiting on an injury to striker David Suazo, who plays his football in Italy with Genoa.
He picked up a knock in a warm-up match against Romania on June 5 and is struggling to recover. If he cannot play, Walter Martinez could partner Carlos Pavon up front.
Suazo’s injury is the latest blow to a Honduras side appearing in only their second World Cup following their debut in 1982. On the eve of the finals, their leading striker Carlos Costly broke his foot, ruling him out altogether.
“The team is not at its best right now but they’ll kick off the tournament with everything they’ve got,” said coach Reinaldo Rueda.
Since beating neighbours El Salvador 1-0 last October to secure a place in the finals Honduras have only won two games out of eight, their last victory coming in January.
In contrast, Chile have lost only one of their World Cup warm-up matches this year, 1-0 to Mexico in May.
After Wednesday’s clash, Chile and Honduras face Spain and Switzerland in their other group matches.