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Chile's World Cup predictions

After four years of waiting, the time has come. Another World Cup is here, and our bloggers across all 32 competing countries have each predicted the fate that awaits their team. The country's Outlook gives a general view of its situation ahead of the tournament, while Pitfalls takes a look at any potential problems. Each blogger will also predict the top scorer and breakout star and suggest how far that nation can go.

OUTLOOK

Two wins in Chile's final two international friendlies have done much for the confidence of the team, and to see star man Alexis Sanchez clicking so well with speedy striker Eduardo Vargas is unendingly encouraging.

That said, Chile's preparations for the World Cup have been beset by injury and fitness problems. Both in friendlies and on the training ground, coach Jorge Sampaoli has had to become increasingly experimental. Sampaoli has not played his preferred starting 11 in 2014, and adjustments are likely to continue into the World Cup.

Throughout qualifying Chile's biggest weakness was in defence, and this problem has been compounded in the lead-up to Brazil. With the ejection of Marcos Gonzalez from the squad due to fitness concerns and lack of playing time this year, Gonzalo Jara is the only recognized center back on the team. Spain, Australia and the Netherlands merely need to watch the opening 16 minutes of the recent Egypt friendly -- in which Chile conceded twice on the counter -- to know that La Roja's "you score once, we'll score twice" approach is one part tactical and one part desperation.

PITFALLS

Momentarily last week it seemed Chile's most influential midfielder, Arturo Vidal, had made a miraculous recovery from surgery conducted in May, though the Juventus man has not trained with his colleagues in Belo Horizonte.

Vidal played 15 minutes at the end of Chile's win over Northern Ireland -- a substitution that divided opinion among medical professionals, despite the player and Sampaoli downplaying associated risk. The latest scan shows inflammation in the knee joint and it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will be available against Australia.

Felipe Gutierrez has been training in Vidal's position, though if the Egypt friendly was anything to go by he simply isn't up for the task. Vidal's presence on the pitch lifts the entire team's performance, and La Roja's fate arguably rests on his recovery.

STAR SCORER

Fans of the game will be familiar with Sanchez, though perhaps unfamiliar with the Barcelona man's evolving role in the Chile setup. Increasingly he is acting as provider, dropping deep into midfield to release Eduardo Vargas on goal, as he has done three times in the past two matches.

In the past Vargas' composure in one-on-ones has escaped him, though the Valencia striker is going into the World Cup with three goals in two games -- versus Sanchez's zero goals and five assists. Vargas will unquestionably threaten sides, turning off the shoulder of his marker with a burst of pace, and is likely to finish the tournament as Chile's top scorer.

Marcelo Diaz has emerged as Chile's midfield maestro.
Marcelo Diaz has emerged as Chile's midfield maestro.

WILD CARD

Marcelo Diaz has swiftly become the conductor in Chile's midfield orchestra and is likely to surprise opposition and spectators alike with his technical ability and cool head under pressure.

The diminutive midfielder is playing in his first World Cup and is approaching it in glittering form. He was instrumental in delivering Basel two Swiss Super League titles since arriving in 2012, and prior to that he won three consecutive domestic championships and the Copa Sudamericana with Universidad de Chile under current La Roja coach Sampaoli.

The player is the protagonist behind Chile's possession-based game, with an accomplished range of passing and eye for space. He scored Chile's first goal against Egypt with a technically superb volley, and made the midfield his own against Northern Ireland in a game which Chile finished with 76 percent possession.

PREDICTION: Last 16

Round of 16 knockout. This is perhaps Chile's greatest ever generation of footballers and the side has the ability to escape a Group of Death with 2010's finalists, most likely in second place behind reigning world champions Spain. Should Brazil finish top of its group, this sets up a clash in the first knockout round with La Roja.

On its day, Chile can hold its own against the best in the world. In friendlies last year the side comfortably defeated England and only a last-minute equalizer from Jesus Navas prevented a history-making victory over Spain. The fact remains, however, that a damaging inferiority complex exists when pitted against Brazil. There is a joke among Brazil fans that when the side is underperforming they should set up a friendly against Chile, as historically it's an easy victory. Chile hasn't defeated Brazil for 14 years in a dozen attempts, and the Pentacampeões knocked Chile out 3-0 at the same stage in 2010.

Perhaps one thing working in Chile's favor should the fixture materialize is the pressure Brazil will be under. Brazilians haven't forgotten the nightmare at the Maracana in 1950 when Uruguay shocked the world with a 2-1 win over the host. An upset is improbable, though not impossible.