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Arturo Vidal in race against time to face Australia

Arturo Vidal in race against time to face Australia

Posted by Juan Gavasa on June 09, 2014

When the manager of a team you are playing in the World Cup talks you up as a threat and suggests he wants to sign you for the club team he is taking over when the tournament finishes, you know that the player in question has to be rather handy.

Especially when the manager is Louis Van Gaal, the World Cup opponent is the Netherlands, and the club team in question is Manchester United.

But then Arturo Vidal, Chile's main man, is used to having praise heaped upon him.

The 27-year old midfield dynamo is tipped to quit Italian giants Juventus and make a big money move following the World Cup, but his first priority, if fit, will be to drive the Chilean engine room as it battles to secure a spot in the knockout phase in this toughest of groups against first Australia, then Spain and finally the Netherlands.

The South Americans will fancy their chances on their home continent, and if they are to do well then Vidal will be an essential component of their campaign.

The midfielder underwent keyhole surgery for a knee problem just a couple of weeks ago, but the Chilean coach, Argentine Jorge Sampaoli, is optimistic that he will be able to orchestrate his team when the action begins in anger against Australia in Cuiaba on Friday.

Vidal played the final 15 minutes of Chile’s friendly against Northern Ireland on Wednesday – a 2-0 win – but he has been training alone in a race against the clock to be ready for that first match.

“We are doing what we can to ensure Vidal is on the pitch against Australia,” one of the Chilean medical staff was quoted as saying.

Having started with one of the giants of the Chilean game in his home city Santiago, Colo Colo, Vidal made an early move to Europe, joining German club Bayer Leverkusen as a 20-year-old in 2007.

He spent four years in the Bundesliga before Juventus swooped, the Turin team signing him in 2011, where he made his first appearance as a substitute in the first game of the 2011-12 season, replacing the former Sydney FC star Alessandro Del Piero, a legend of the Italian game.

Van Gaal has long been an admirer, having tried to sign the Chilean for Bayern Munich when he was in charge of the Bundesliga powerhouse, and he has made noises about moving for him again now he is taking over at Old Trafford following the World Cup.

"Chile have very dangerous players," he told the website ESPN. "I always wanted to buy Vidal when he was at Bayer Leverkusen but he went to Juventus. I like a lot of Chile players and they always play an attacking style. It will be difficult for the Netherlands."

Which begs the question of how much of a threat this Chilean side might be for the Socceroos, who are ranked well below the Netherlands in the standings and are the complete outsiders of the group.

It's not just Vidal the Australians have to worry about, either.

Alexis Sanchez, a small but fleet of foot forward or winger, has recently been linked with an expensive move to Liverpool from Spanish giants Barcelona, where he moved in 2006. Sanchez, who also had time in the Serie A with Italian club Udinese, became the first Chilean to ever sign for the Catalan club when he moved to the Iberian peninsula, and while he is not a big name player like Lionel Messi, Xavi or Iniesta, he scored 19 goals last season in La Liga, including a hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of FC Elche.

The Chilean squad is a mixture of home-based players from some of the nation's biggest clubs – Universita de Chile, Colo-Colo, Universita Catolica – and some widely dispersed foreign players including another Juventus man, right wing back Mauricio Isla.

While Vidal and Sanchez are the highest profile, there are a handful known from their time in the English game, such as former Premier League club Cardiff City defender Gary Medel and Wigan's Jean Beausejour. But the majority of Chile's foreign legion play in continental Europe at mid-ranking teams in La Liga and the Serie A.

Chile has a proud history in Latin American football, having been one of the four original nations – along with Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina – to conest the first Copa America.

It also took part in the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 where it achieved the first of two dubious World Cup distinctions: Guillermo Subiabre became the first player in World Cup history to miss a penalty kick in a game against France. Forty-four years later, Carlos Caszely earned another award of questionable value when he went into the record books as the first player sent off after two yellow cards in the 1974 tournament in Germany.

This, of course, is the second time Australia and Chile will have faced off against each other in World Cup competition. In that 1974 tournament the two nations played out a goalless draw, Australia's first-ever World Cup point.

Chile has, however, yet to win a major tournament. It has finished runner-up in the Copa America, South America's equivalent of the European Championships or Asian Cup, on four occasions. 

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