Marcelo Bielsa has been putting his Chile side through their paces at their Nelspruit training base, leaving nothing to chance as his charges prepare for their South Africa 2010 debut against Honduras on Wednesday. The Argentinian did give his hard-working squad some respite at the weekend, however, allowing them to break off from their intensive preparations to celebrate the 22nd birthday of defender Mauricio Isla.
“I’ve never had a birthday like this before, miles away from my family and training with the national team,” he tells FIFA. “I’m not complaining, though. It was great to have my team-mates around me and to be here at the World Cup too. Thankfully they didn’t play any jokes on me or anything like that. We just had some cake and celebrated together.”
Turning his thoughts back to the task in hand, the Udinese player assesses Chile’s chances of a successful start against Los Catrachos. “I don’t think it’s an advantage to be one of the last teams in action, although I wouldn’t say we’re getting anxious about it,” he says. “We want to get on with things and show who we are and what we can do, though we’ll soon have the chance to do that.”
And when Chile finally do take to the field against the Hondurans, he believes it could be the start of something big: “We want to be world champions. We know that we have the chance this year and that’s the target we’ve set ourselves.”
Known as El Huaso to his friends, Isla achieved the unusual feat of winning his first Chile cap before he had even made his league debut with Universidad Catolica. Argentina captain Javier Mascherano also began his international career in the same circumstances, and as fate would have it, it was Bielsa who blooded both players.
“He has proved himself and has taught us a lot of things about football, like how to play and move as a unit and defend as a team. It’s all down to him,” explains the Udinese man, full of admiration for his coach. “Since he took over we’ve been playing a much more expansive game and we all look for space now. We showed that during the qualifiers and now we want to do it again in the World Cup.”
As Isla goes on to explain, he and his colleagues have had to work hard to adapt to El Loco’s (The Crazy One) methods. “It was all a bit strange to begin with because we weren’t used to the way he worked. He showed us new things, though, and it’s been absolutely fantastic.”
And as for Bielsa’s nickname, the versatile defender has his own personal interpretation: “I think it’s to do with his passion for football and the feeling he has for what he does. He’s always thinking about football and players. Name any player from anywhere in the world and he’ll know who they are. But that’s a great virtue to my mind.”
So will Bielsa’s attention to detail prove the decisive factor when Chile get their campaign up and running? Isla certainly hopes so. “We definitely think it will,” he replies without a moment’s hesitation. “We know what we’re here for and why we’re in this tournament. All we want now is to show the world what Chile can do.”