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Sampaoli: Short-handed Chile can handle expectations

Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli said long balls will be few and far between for his men, in their Copa America opener against Ecuador on Thursday.

Sampaoli’s men will look to give the host fans a winning start in Santiago, although the coach predicted his side would play the ball on the ground – especially given the vertical challenges of his squad.

Only one of the 20 outfield players Sampaoli has at his disposal at the continental tournament is six feet tall – striker Mauricio Pinilla coming in at 185 centimetres – with the next tallest five-foot-11 (Miiko Albornoz, Arturo Vidal, Angelo Henriquez).

Ecuador, conversely, have five players in their squad that are six feet or taller – including towering Gremio centre-back Frickson Erazo and fellow central defender Arturo Mina.

“We will have the possibility to score through set-pieces or aerial play facing the fact that we are not a very tall team but one of the shortest of the tournament, and need to anticipate [the play],” Sampaoli told a news conference on Wednesday.

“We can’t play different.

“We need to play with the ball on the ground trying to have the initiative and when we will have to defend or have to play in the aerial game, we have prepared the team for the anticipation [of opposition teams playing like that].”

Ecuador’s aerial prowess is not Sampaoli’s lone concern, either.

Chile have lost twice to Ecuador in their past three meetings by 3-0 and 3-1 scorelines, before posting a 2-1 win in their most recent clash in October 2013.

“The match against Ecuador will be a tough and difficult game,” he said.

“They are a team with some very fast players who can exploit big spaces.”

The 55-year-old said he hopes his players do not stress about the fear of failure on home soil.

“There are two different scenarios. There’s the fear of losing on one hand and then the expectation of success on the other hand,” Sampaoli added.

“We have to focus on the second scenario to enjoy the Copa. The idea is to have a clear plan for each game and to do what we did last time.

“We all realise that the fact we are in the spotlight can bring some extra pressure, but we have to learn to show up when it matters most.

“We will have a different team than during the World Cup. There are different ways to approach a game and we aim to choose the best option.”

Juventus midfielder Vidal followed his coach’s instruction on positivity to a tee.

“We want to win the Copa America and this is the moment for us. We have a great team and want to make the most of it,” the Juventus man added.

“We don’t feel any extra pressure. More than anything, we are anxious for the tournament to get under way and then achieve something important.

“The entire team wants to win an important trophy and we cannot wait for the Copa to start.

“We have reached the same level as the other favourites and we have the home advantage.”

Thu 11 Jun, 2015
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