Chile are rushing to get Arturo Vidal fit for their World Cup opener against Australia in Cuiaba tonight, and understandably so.
idal is, bar Yaya Toure, probably the most complete box-to-box midfielder in world football. He is the reason, just as much as Antonio Conte or Andrea Pirlo, for Juventus' three consecutive Italian titles, a little bundle of muscle, tackles and goals who could be the difference between Chile emerging from Group C and not.
So it was very bad news for this ambitious side – Gary Medel and Alexis Sanchez talk about winning the tournament and are not joking – when Vidal underwent a knee operation on 7 May. Since then the 27-year-old has been suffering with some inflammation and has been working his way back to full fitness.
When Chile beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in a friendly in Valparaiso last week, Vidal came on for Jorge Valdivia and played the last 13 minutes. In the days since though, he has been training alone, working in the gym, strengthening his knee and having physiotherapy.
Vidal joined in with his team-mates on Wednesday, but not fully, and so coach Jorge Sampaoli will probably have to take a risk with him this evening. The likelihood is that he will, with Vidal even more important to this Chile side than he is for Juventus.
If Chile line up in a 4-3-1-2 system, as expected, Vidal should be in the three, linking the midfield to the front three of Valdivia, Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas. Vidal, when fully fit, encapsulates Chile's unique style: relentless high pressing, fast direct attacking and an almost over-competitive attitude.
It is an approach that won Chile friends in the last World Cup, under coach Marcelo Bielsa. Vidal impressed in 2010 and has developed into a world-beater.
In 2011, Juventus bought him from Bayer Leverkusen for £8m and he has won the Scudetto in each of his three seasons in Turin. Conte has used Vidal – first alongside Claudio Marchisio, but increasingly with Paul Pogba – as a shield for Pirlo, to do all of the running, defending and scoring while Pirlo directs play behind them.
It has worked very well. Manchester United would love him – he would be perfect for the Premier League – and Real Madrid are keen, too.
Vidal is Chile's most important player but they have quality throughout the side. "This is a very good generation" said Medel, the Cardiff City defender.
"We expect to reach the semi-final, final, or be world champions. I hope to win the title with Chile."
Chile's problem is converting dominance into goals. Sanchez will be their biggest threat, leading from the front. Since leaving Udinese for Barcelona three years ago, he has produced a few moments of brilliance – his chip in el Clasico at the start of last season was wonderful – but a tournament like this should bring the best out of him.
"I believe Chile will win the World Cup," Sanchez said this week.
"If I didn't believe that I would be sitting at home in front of the television."
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