The Chile side coached by Marcelo 'El Loco' Bielsa were one of the genuine revelations of the qualifying stage for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the Argentine strategist's hard-running outfit finishing second in the South American section behind Brazil. Up against them in their opening encounter in Group H are CONCACAF side Honduras, returning to football's biggest stage after a 28-year absence.
Honduras-Chile, Group H, Nelspruit, Wednesday 16 June, 13.30 (local time)
In a section containing tournament favourites Spain, the remaining three teams would appear condemned to battling it out for a single Round of 16 berth. That being the case, this opening duel looks vital to both sides' hopes of progressing. On paper at least, the attacking prowess of Bielsa's Chile may give them the edge, given they were 32-goal top scorers in the South American Zone. One concern, however, is the fitness of Real Zaragoza's Humberto Suazo, their ten-goal leading marksmen in qualifying, who is battling to recover from a muscle strain.
His Honduran namesake David Suazo is in a similar situation. A pulled muscle in the warm-up game against Romania could well force the Genoa hitman out of the Chile match, while there was bad news on the eve of the game with key attacking midfielder Julio Cesar de Leon ruled out of the tournament with a muscle problem. These heavyweight absentees will pile even more responsibility on the shoulders of 36-year-old striker Carlos Pavon, who struck the winning goal against El Salvador which sent Los Catrachos to South Africa.
Despite the knocks and niggles that have cast a cloud of uncertainty over the encounter, both teams have their playmakers intact and ready to assume creative duties. For Honduras that job falls to Wilson Palacios, who is normally a defensive midfielder at club level with Tottenham Hotspur. Chile's string-pulling should be done by Matias Fernandez of Sporting Lisbon, though given the doubts surrounding Suazo and fellow forwards Alexis Sanchez and Esteban Paredes, Bielsa could also bring in fellow schemer Jorge Valdivia in a more advanced role.
2 — On their only previous trip to the finals at Spain 1982, Honduras picked up two points via 1-1 draws with the host nation and Northern Ireland. La Bicolor missed out on a spot in the next round, however, after falling to a 1-0 defeat against Yugoslavia.
What they say
"Chile are a tough team to play, they don't give you any space and work the ball very well in midfield. They're the type of side that need everybody on their game to really click. So, when we have the ball we need to keep hold of it, and win it back quickly to be able to cause them problems," Hendry Thomas, Honduras midfielder.
"Why shouldn't we aim to reach the last four? Our team's capable of getting great results, but we're also aware that we mustn't get carried away. For the moment, our most important game is the one against Honduras," Claudio Bravo, Chile captain and goalkeeper.
Voice of the fans
"With the players they have Chile should beat Honduras, but games are won on the pitch. It'll be very tough, and if we slip up then it'll make the World Cup very difficult for us. Particularly because our other two games will be even harder, especially the one against Spain. I'm hoping that we win the game and show our opponents plenty of respect. Chile have no right to underestimate anybody. We mustn't forgot what we've done in the past," vicmar, FIFA.com user.
Which two teams do you think will qualify for the Round of 16 from Group H?