Chile look good for round one, not round two

By Gideon Long

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Marcelo Bielsa's rejuvenated Chile are fairly confident of getting through the first round of the World Cup. It is the second round they are worried about.

The Chileans face Honduras and Switzerland in their opening Group H matches and hope they will have done enough to secure a place in the knock-out phase before they face Spain.

They could then face one of the qualifiers from Group G, likely to be the Ivory Coast, Portugal or, worse still, Brazil.

Beating any of these teams would be asking a lot of Bielsa's young, inexperienced side, despite the fabulous form they showed in reaching the finals.

Bielsa's last World Cup adventure ended in Argentina's ignominious first-round exit from the 2002 finals, but he has sparked a renaissance in Chilean football. In less than three years, he has taken them from 47th in FIFA's rankings to 15th.

Chile have played with a refreshing emphasis on attack. They scored 32 times in their 18 qualifying matches, only one goal fewer than Brazil. But that abandon came at a cost -- they conceded 22 goals, more than any of the other four South American teams to make the finals.

Chile's preparations for the World Cup have been hampered by forces beyond their control. In November their friendly against Germany was scrapped due to the suicide of German goalkeeper Robert Enke, and in March they had to abandon two more friendlies after southern Chile was hit by a huge earthquake.

The Chileans have managed to organize replacement matches but those games have not been on officially-sanctioned FIFA match days, which meant that club sides in Europe were not obliged to release their players.

That has given Bielsa's sides a very experimental look in recent outings.

It has been 12 years since Chile appeared at a World Cup and while they do not have Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano any more, they have a better all-round squad.

(Editing by Rex Gowar/Robert Woodward)