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Australia-Chile Preview

AP - Sports

Chile surprised many in 2010 by reaching the knockout round despite heavily relying on youth.

While some of that talent has matured and is entering its prime four years later, making it out of the group stage this time may be a bigger surprise as La Roja open Group B play versus Australia on Friday at Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil.

In South Africa, Chile emerged from Group H with eventual World Cup champion Spain despite starting six players aged 25 or younger, beating both Honduras and Switzerland before losing to the Spaniards 2-1 and then continental rival and current host Brazil 3-0 in the round of 16.

Coach Marco Bielsa left in 2011 following the election of Jorge Segovia as Chilean federation president, and successor Claudio Borghi struggled in the early rounds of South American qualifying. Jorge Sampaoli, an Argentine like Bielsa who favored a high-pressing up-tempo style that brought La Roja success in 2010, was hired in December 2012 and guided them to a third-place finish and direct passage to Brazil.

Sampaoli's success has continued in the run-up to the World Cup finals, highlighted by a 2-0 victory last November at England and a 2-all draw versus reigning World Cup champion Spain, which Chile will face once more in Rio de Janeiro on June 18.

La Roja's chances on advancing will likely hinge on the performances of forward Alexis Sanchez, who scored 19 goals for Barcelona this season and is already tied for fifth on Chile's all-time scoring list with 22 goals in 67 international appearances. The 25-year-old scored both goals in the win at England and had four goals in the qualifying cycle.

Given the strength of the group that also features the Netherlands - a talented yet highly temperamental squad that lost to Spain in the 2010 final but also flamed out of the European Championships two years later by losing all three matches in group play - Sanchez and La Roja know anything less than three points at the expense of lesser-talented Australia could make a return to the knockout round near-impossible.

''The margin for error is zero,'' Sampaoli said. ''It's a very complicated group due to the traits of the rivals. Obviously playing against such important European teams, against the last world champion, will be tough.''

Sampaoli is also facing a key injury concern over Arturo Vidal, who has been trying to recover from right knee surgery last month. The Juventus midfielder is the team's best distributor and often links with Sanchez in attack for Chile.

Sampaoli said Thursday there is a ''high possibility'' that Vidal will be fit to play Friday. The Juventus midfielder has been training as normal over the last three days but ''the player might not have the same rhythm as the rest'' of the squad, according to his coach.

Vidal's club teammate, Mauricio Isla, can also provide offensive support from his right back position.

Australia is making its third consecutive World Cup appearance but is the lowest-ranked team in the field of 32 at No. 62 in FIFA's rankings. Coach Ange Postecoglou, hired in November to replace Holger Osieck after the Socceroos absorbed 6-0 beatings by Brazil and France in consecutive friendlies, has taken a page from the Chilean blueprint by bringing a youth-laden squad - 14 of his 23 players are 25 or younger.

One of the nine who isn't is 34-year-old Tim Cahill, who will be making his third World Cup appearance and is Australia's all-time leading scorer with 32 goals in 69 caps. He and fellow vice-captain, midfielder Mark Bresciano, will be counted on to provide offense and a calming influence.

''For us, it's perfect,'' said Cahill, who has three goals and a red card in six World Cup matches. ''Some of these kids are pretty special and nobody knows about them. Hopefully in this World Cup, everyone is going to know about them.''

One of those up-and-coming players, Tom Rogic, did not make the final roster due to injury, but Adam Taggart may get the chance to prove his worth. He led the A-League with 16 goals for the Newcastle Jets last season.

Australia recorded its first World Cup point with a 0-0 draw versus Chile in West Germany in 1974.

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