Cuiaba, Brazil: If Australia’s World Cup warmup against Ecuador in London in March is anything to go by, their opening Group B clash with Chile at the Pantanal Arena could be a thriller.
Australia, who took a shock three-goal lead against the Ecuadoreans before being over-run in the second half and losing 4-3, like to hit opponents with fast breaks and if they are to do anything of note in Brazil they must beat Chile.
Chile like to play in their opponents’ half with a fast and furious pressing game based on as much possession as possible.
With big guns Spain and the Netherlands, who met in the final in South Africa four years ago, up next in the group Chile also need to take the three points.
The South Americans, third in their region’s qualifying group, are favourites against an Australian team in transition with the 2015 Asian Cup a far more realistic goal.
Chile are playing on their own continent but the muggy conditions in Cuiaba deep in the Mato Grosso swampland are not necessarily an advantage for them because the country has a more European climate.
Chile have a more talented squad than Australia with Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez and Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal major players at top European clubs.
They may be thin at the back in a 3-4-3 formation but will aim to starve the opposition of the ball.
“On Friday we’ll go out to attack from the first minute and we’ll run until we’ve smothered our opponents,” midfielder Marcelo Diaz said at Chile’s Belo Horizonte base.
“We’ll see if Australia give us space or not… let’s hope what we have planned works out,” he told a news conference.
Vidal, who had knee surgery on May 7, took full part in Wednesday’s practice but is unlikely to start against Australia.
The Chilean squad has the lowest average height in the tournament and will need to counter the Australians’ strengths in the air, particularly from veteran midfielder Tim Cahill.
“We manage the height factor well, working on our timing and distance,” defender Gonzalo Jara said.
Cahill became Australia’s all-time top scorer with two headed goals against Ecuador and now has 32 in 68 internationals having also scored against South Africa in their last warmup
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou’s main decision is over whether to risk playmaker Mark Bresciano, who arrived in Brazil with a back problem and has been undertaking only light training.
The 34-year-old got safely through a second-half substitute appearance in last week’s 1-0 friendly loss to Croatia.
Dario Vidosic is likely to come into a re-jigged midfield if Bresciano is not fit enough to start.