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Jun 14, 2014

Chile's grand recklessness on full show

Chile trained on Saturday evening after arriving back at their Toca da Raposa base camp after 3 a.m. following their 3-1 win over Australia.

Following Chile's 3-1 win over Australia on Friday, coach Jorge Sampaoli was guilty of a wild understatement when he praised his players' "enthusiasm."

In the opening 20 minutes of the fixture, La Roja played with such a glorious recklessness that the football gods must have regarded it sacrilegious. The red rampage was wonderful and irresponsible, and as is so often the case, the ring leader in it all was Alexis Sanchez, who revelled in the free role Sampaoli affords him. He scored and grabbed his sixth assist in three games, setting up Jorge "El Mago" Valdivia in a broad swathe of undefended ground to whip in the ball with his wand of a right foot.

The team could be accused of arrogance in the time that followed, of stepping back to admire its handiwork and letting the Socceroos back in the match. But those unfamiliar with La Roja may be surprised to hear that Chile were some way off their best on Friday evening.

"To take on our other rivals, we must make our game more complete," Sampaoli warned.

The opposition proved itself full of fight; Jean Beausejour's injury-time goal flattered Chile in a second half in which Australia were the better team for long periods. Chile will hope a similar Socceroos side will turn up and make things tricky for the others in Group B.

It is hard to imagine this World Cup delivering a more shocking result than the annihilation that occurred in Salvador on Friday, though Chile are well positioned to do just that. The Netherlands have handed them the opportunity to dump the defending champion out of the competition, and this collection of boisterous players will approach that challenge with devilish zeal.

Vicente del Bosque surely dreads that it is Chile rather than Australia his team must face next as he desperately dresses the wounds inflicted by the Dutch.

He will take some comfort from the deficiencies the Australians exposed. Chile relied heavily on a fine effort from keeper Claudio Bravo, while Eugenio Mena had his poorest showing at left-back in some time, guilty of overturning possession and letting in the opposition too easily on several occasions. Sampaoli will surely stick with four at the back, though he may be tempted to play promising youngster Miiko Albornoz on the left against the Spanish.

At 5-foot-7, it is Gary Medel's heart that allows him to play at centre-back. "Pitbull" mostly had a good game, though seeing Tim Cahill rise a full 10 inches above him to nod home bordered on embarrassing regardless of the Australian's peerless technique in that regard. Sergio Ramos will be champing at the bit.

Equally concerning was the performance of Arturo Vidal. Rushed back to the starting lineup following surgery in May, "King Arthur" was far from the dominant force Chileans are accustomed to. His petulant behaviour on the touchline may have been due to frustration over his performance rather than being substituted in the second half.

This was contrasted by a decent showing from his midfield colleagues, in particular Charles Aranguiz. The Internacional man displayed his usual, lung-busting industry, accompanied with incisive offensive play, and it was his brilliant run that paved the way to Sanchez's opener.

Few, though, were as magnificent as the 12th man. Twenty-five thousand Chileans made their way across the Andes and through the swampland of Mato Grosso to watch their team play, and they sang for the full 90 minutes. Only South American teams have won South American World Cups, and La Roja's fans displayed the passion and energy that fuels this home continent advantage.

Chile's "hinchas" must be more vocal than ever come Wednesday against Spain. Beasts are often most dangerous when injured, and as Chile knows nothing other than playing at full throttle, the fixture promises to excite.