To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.You want a dark horse? How about a shockingly young and talented team that finished second in South American qualifying?
ChileGroup H THE BASICS
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La Roja (The Red)
Red and White
•How They Got Here:
Won more games than Brazil in qualifying, finishing second ahead of Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay
•World Cup Pedigree:
8 World Cups ('30, '50, '62, '66, '74, '82, '94, '98), only reached the knockout phase twice, were disqualified in '94THE PLOT
Can one of the youngest and most surprisingly attractive teams pile up enough goals and enough pressure to upend the more established teams in their group?THE DIRECTOR
"El Loco" prefers smart, attractive and attacking soccer. That approach led to Chile finishing second in South American qualifying (yeah, above his own fellow countrymen in Argentina!). He's also been very smart in bringing in hot, young talent.LEADING MAN
"Mati" was born in Argentina, but grew up in the country of his father. He's an attacking midfielder and plays for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal. He's the leading man for this team and tied for the lead in assists in South American qualification. He's a free-kick specialist.SUPPORTING CAST
(forward, Real Zaragoza) is a prolific goalscorer and gave Chile a big boost when he was cleared to play (injury) in the World Cup;Mark Gonzalez
(midfielder/winger, CSKA Moscow) is a former Liverpool man known for one thing, blazing speed;Jorge Valdivia
(midfielder, Al-Ain FC - Egypt) is known as "The Magician" for his creative vision and on-ball skills;Rodrigo Millar
(midfielder, Colo Colo) was the 2009 Chilean player of the year;Arturo Vidal
(right back, Bayer Leverkusen) is rising star and a favorite of the manger.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
The Udinese forward is called "Wonder Boy" and is the future of Chilean football. He's a prodigy who has the two Ph's you need as a striker: Phast and Physical.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
It's unfortunate, as the goalkeeper was a relative strength as late as this past March. Then he hurt his knee and hasn't been in great form ever since. He needs to find his fitness soon, as this isn't the group to have a shaky keeper.PRODUCTION NOTES
The Argetinian influence runs deep, as the team plays aggressive and attacking football. This team sometimes trots out a very weird 3-3-1-3 and presses the ball a lot. (After a friendly, Slovakia's manager Vladimir Wiess said it felt like they were playing Barcelona.)WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
Bad Boys 2
I couldn't have gone this long without referencing one of my favorite crappy movies of all time. It works because Chile was the only team disqualified from the World Cup (in '94). So, that was the original "Bad Boys." 2010 is the sequel.TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
Chile is second in the world in percentage of women who smoke. (10 bonus blog points if you can find who is first. And you can't just say "Missouri.")CRITICAL BLURBS
Many people probably see Chile and think "tough, physical, defensive team." It's OK. I did the same thing. I even wrote it in my Honduras preview. Then I watched video of them and read a lot. The Spain-Chile game could see 8 goals. I'm not kidding. ... I'm stunned at how young this team is, but they will rely on the two vets, Suazo and Mati, to carry them to the knockout stage. ... Not a terrible draw for them, but they'll have to break down the Swiss to get through. ... At the very least, every game they are in will be exciting. ... Have some really fantastic nicknames, I'm rather fond of "The Magician" and "Wonder Boy." ...Best-case scenario?
Finishing second in the group and giving Brazil a run for everything in the second round. ...Realistic prediction?
Scoring at will, conceding at will and going home third-place in the group.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
There would be nothing finer for the whole narrow country of Chile than getting a chance to play Brazil in the second round. The Chileans seriously think that they can give the Brazilians a game. (Of course, facts don't hold up to this, as Brazil beat Chile twice in qualifying by a grand total of 7-2.) If they do get to this game on June 28, and they can put in an early goal and make Brazil chase (and ultimately win) it will still be a point not even the most devoted La Roja fan could dream of.
Group A: South Africa
Group B: South Korea
Group C: Algeria
Group D: Serbia
Group E: Japan
Group F: New Zealand
Group G: North Korea
Group H: Honduras
, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook