Safely ensconced in the tranquil surrounds of his Doetinchem hotel, Chile coach José Sulantay is all smiles as he ponders his options ahead of the imminent last 16 clash with the formidable hosts at the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005.
The mood is in stark contrast to that of the previous Saturday, when his squad nervously waited for the results from the final Group A, D, E and F games. "We were all huddled around a TV set hoping upon hope that results would go our way," midfielder Matías Fernández tells FIFA.com. Even his coach was betraying signs of nerves, but no sooner had the good news filtered through than he picked up his notebook and went to work.
How do you and your side feel after making it through by the skin of your teeth?
We feel great and think that we deserve to be here. Against Morocco, we did enough to win the game or at least draw it. But after losing and not adding to our three points, we were a bit disheartened. There was nothing we could do but sit and wait. We were thrilled when the news came through that we had made it, but we stayed calm. In fact, we immediately went and did some training together.
Your last 16 opponents are the Netherlands who, as well as having the support of their fanatical public, are also one of the form sides.
We played a friendly (against them) in the build up to the tournament and lost 2-1. But looking back on that game, there was very little to choose between the sides. From what I've seen of the team, they play a similar game to ours. I have a variety of information about them and I'll be studying the videos carefully to identify their weak points.
Can you give us some idea of how you might beat them?
Well, first you have to analyse their strengths. They're very fast up front and have a lot of players who can turn a game. But they are not without their weaknesses, which hopefully we will be able to exploit. (With a conspiratorial smile he leans closer and says in a hushed voice) They play four across the back, but their line has been breached on many occasions. I think that is the way through.
What areas do Chile need to improve if they are to advance. From what we have seen, the defence would have to be one of them, no?
We had the misfortune to have Gonzalo Jara sent off against Spain and this ruined our game plan. Later we had another player injured, but thankfully both are OK now. Now that I have my entire squad to choose from, we can take on the Netherlands with our strongest team.
Both you and your boys came in for heavy criticism after the defeat to Morocco. Has that affected you much and have you put it behind you?
We're well used to it because in Chile we go from one extreme to another. We went from being hailed as this great side to being called the absolute pits. That was very unfair on these young players. If you look at the side's record, you'll see that what this youth team have achieved is unheard of in Chilean football. They have scored a lot of goals against top class sides. Not long ago, we came from behind to beat Germany, yet no one remembers that. We've scored 57 times in 23 games. It's only in the last two games that we've failed to find the net. However, I'm confident we can put that right against the Netherlands.
The understanding between Matías Fernández, José Fuenzalida and Ricardo Parada could be the key to your success up front…
Those three lads can make all the difference breaking from deep. Fuenzalida is playing superbly on the right wing. Parada has been the top scorer in the Chilean third division for the past three years, while Matías is also scoring heavily and has the makings of a classic centre-forward. He is always closely marked, which is a sign of how much opponents fear him. The Netherlands don't go in much for man-marking, which could allow our players to take advantage and get into good striking positions.
As well as that trio, there is Carlos Carmona and Eduardo Tudela, both of whom played really well against Morocco, and of course Edzon Riquelme.
This championship has already put your players in the shop window, which may see some of them on the move.
That is what I'd like to see. I'd also like to continue working with them and put together a strong U-23 side that could challenge at the next Olympics. But that's down the line. For now, all we're thinking about is the Netherlands.