It’s too early to say crisis but Chile are a team in search of inspiration and in dire need of a turnaround. Following the departure of coach Jorge Sampaoli in January on the heels of the departure of his friend, Sergio Jadue, as President of the Chilean football federation and the subsequent hiring of Arturo Salah, with whom he was at odds over the length of his release clause, Chile have gone on a run few would envy. Five losses in six games after, including a loss to the Reggae Boyz, and the fifth ranked team in the world are now wondering how to halt the slide.
Under the Argentinian Sampaoli, La Roja developed a signature pressure game and constantly harassed opponents into mistakes. That high octane game was responsible for a Copa America triumph last time around. A true Bielsista, Sampaoli drilled his Chile to press relentlessly, high, and quickly. Combined with impressive transitions from defense to attack and movement on and off the ball, Chile were able to make up for deficiencies in defense where they are decidedly lacking in quality. In honesty, with the exception of Arturo Vidal, captain Claudio Bravo, Alexis Sanchez, and the versatile workhorse Gary Medel, they possess few players of real quality. Therefore, what Sampaoli was able to extract was highly admirable and distinctly different to the norm.
However, just a look at their last two matches reveals the new troubles facing the team. There is a distinct lack of organisation in midfield. Everything seems to be haphazard with one side being overloaded too often, leaving one flank vulnerable as they attempt to press but in an all too jumbled and confused manner. Argentina were able to exploit defensive lapses and easy losses of possession for breakaway attacks. This was further punctuated by Bravo being twice beaten at his near post, at least one which should have been saved. Also of concern is the lack of goals. The once free scoring team has scored more than once on only one occasion in their last six matches, a 4-1 win over 76th ranked Venezuela.
New manager Juan Antonio Pizzi must find some way to fill the Sampaoli boots which so many refused to wear and the first step is to rediscover the organisation that made them so successful. It isn’t rocket science, but they will be rocketing out of the competition very soon if there isn’t sudden and drastic improvement. After the tournament he will need to re-evaluate the composition of the squad as the style demands youth. The team which lost to Jamaica had an average age of 29.5. Going with the tried and tested was perhaps safe but the level of intensity demands some refreshment, especially with a World Cup on the horizon.
Reggae Boyz halfway there
The Reggae Boyz went into this Copa America with far more respect, if not expectations, behind their name. Last time around, nobody on this planet gave them a chance of doing anything less than leave with a whimper and possibly three heavy defeats. However, the well drilled defensive unit punctuated by a fair bit of quality from the Premier league were able to leave with three narrow 1-0 losses to South Americans, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. That was a team triumph. Strange to say such when no goals were scored but it was.
The fear was that although this team always looks good defensively and as such is able to hold their own against the very best, there is a chronic lack of quality and goals in the team. Forwards such as Giles Barnes, Clayton Donaldson, Dever Orgill, and Alan Ottey aren’t exactly household names, except in their own homes, and Jamaica has found goals hard to come by ever since the days of Luton Shelton and the troubled Marlon King, the only consistent goal-scorers in recent memory.
What Jamaica has been able to achieve in terms of organisation under German Winfried Schäfer has been nothing short of admirable, yet they may not even qualify for the CONCACAF hexagonal tournament. Why? Goals. It is the same reason why they might find it equally as difficult against Venezuela as against Uruguay or Chile. The problem of goals extends past the strike force. Jamaica have glaringly lacked a truly creative force in midfield ever since former national team coach and midfield wizard Theodore Whitmore retired, and they decided Jermaine Hue wasn’t the man to grab the helm. The men most likely to provide chances are wingers Garath Mcleary and Joel ‘Jobi’ McAnuff. If Jamaica are to get to the next level, the prototypical Jamaican midfielder as a physical beast who is short on technique and vision must change. In the interim, they remain a difficult team to break down for most who has an even harder time breaking down the opponent. Sixteen goals scored in their last 18 games anyone?