At kick-off time in today's meeting in Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, Switzerland had gone a staggering 492 minutes without conceding a goal at the FIFA World Cup. Allied to the way Ottmar Hitzfeld’s charges had shackled European champions Spain in a 1-0 victory in their Group H opener, opponents Chile must have thought goals would be hard to come by.
So it proved, with coach Marcelo Bielsa needing to deploy all his considerable attacking resources over the course of the match to secure the three points. Starting with a three-man forward line of Alexis Sanchez on the right, Jean Beausejour on the left and the fit-again Humberto Suazo as a central striker, the 31st-minute red card of Die Nati’s Valon Behrami subsequently gave the Argentinian coach even more room to throw on additional attacking players.
“They lost a player and so I had the chance to bring on attackers in place of some more defensive players,” said El Loco on bringing on Jorge Valdivia and Mark Gonzalez for Suazo and Arturo Vidal, as well as the 65th-minute withdrawal of midfielder Matias Fernandez for striker Esteban Paredes. “I wanted to use Gonzalez to open up more spaces. I put on Valdivia to give us more options and Paredes was brought on because at that point in the second half I thought we needed a finisher.”
Bielsa's judgement would prove sound, with La Roja grabbing what turned out to be the winner on 75 minutes – just eight minutes after Switzerland broke the record for most minutes without conceding at the tournament. Valdivia it was who received the ball in midfield and played an inch-perfect pass to Paredes down the right-hand side of the box. The forward drew Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and sent over a looping cross to the far post, where Gonzalez sent a downward header bouncing into the net.
“The three of us all came off the bench and were all involved in the goal. It’s curious,” Colo-Colo’s Paredes told FIFA in an exclusive interview after the game. “That tells you a lot about the togetherness in the camp and the way we’re all playing together.”
Creative midfielder Valdivia, who started Chile’s opening game against Honduras but picked up a knock during that encounter, lost his berth in the starting XI to the returning Suazo. “We came on the pitch to do what the coach asked us to do, and in this case that earned us the win,” said the former Palmeiras star when interviewed by FIFA. “But it wasn’t just the three of us who decided the game. We spent the entire match going for the win, right from the first minute, and it wasn’t at all easy. So I’m happy that, in the end, it came our way.”