In the course of his distinguished 17-year career, Ivan Zamorano scored goals, and lots of them, both for his country and for clubs of the stature of Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
The leader of a generation of Chilean players and a veteran of three FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaigns, including one appearance at the finals themselves, at France 1998, Bam Bam is in South Africa commentating for Chilean channel TVN. He broke off from his media duties to offer FIFA.com his insight on La Roja’s chances.
FIFA.com: Ivan, what are you expecting from this Chile team?
Ivan Zamorano: The same as everyone else in Chile – a lot. We’ve got a great team – never better in my opinion – a great coach who has stamped his philosophy on the side, and the complete commitment of the players. You can see all that out on the pitch. They’ve been playing well and getting good results and I’ve never been more certain that we can have a great World Cup.
Are you surprised at how quickly Bielsa gelled with the team?
Not at all. I’ll say one thing, it was a real challenge for the players to have a coach like him come in. He’s a true professional who strives for perfection and analyses every detail to achieve it. With him in charge we know Chile will be able to develop their own style in time.
Are there any comparisons to be made between this side and the one you played in at France 1998?
This Chile team has a desire and faith that remind me of the side we had back then, although they do play a different type of game. We played a simple 4-4-2 while this team uses a 3-1-3-3 formation, which has a lot to do with the players that are around now. There will always be comparisons to make but they are two very different generations.
What do you think about Chile’s opponents?
Spain are clear favourites to win not just the group but the World Cup itself. In [Iker] Casillas, Xavi [Hernandez], [Fernando] Torres and [David] Villa they have a better backbone than anyone. The Hondurans have added a bit of physical power to their technical abilities and that means they have to be respected. It’s the opening match, though, and it’s one we just have to win. As for Switzerland, their strong point is their coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who’s a born winner. I think Chile will be right in the fight for second place along with Honduras and the Swiss.
Do you think nerves might get the better of Chile’s younger players?
I’ve seen a lot of nervous teams. No one ever goes into a World Cup in a relaxed frame of mind, but nerves aren’t necessarily a bad thing. You just need to be able to control them if you want to reach your objectives. Most of them will have the chance to appear in another World Cup but they need to go out and play as if it were their last. I think they know that, though.
How much are Chile going to miss Humberto Suazo if he is unable to play?
If there’s one thing that stands out since Bielsa took over it’s how well he’s got the team working as a unit. Suazo is a key player, make no mistake. He’s a goalscorer and his confidence rubs off on his team-mates, but I’ve got more faith in what the team can do than any one player. Bielsa needs to have a Plan B in mind too, and a Plan C even. We need to have confidence in the players who might stand in for Suazo.
Who is your favourite player in the Chile squad?
I think Alexis Sanchez is a cut above everyone else. He’s on a high right now and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go to a big European team after the World Cup.
You are working here as a television commentator. What do you find harder: playing in a World Cup or sitting in front of a camera?
Sitting in front of a camera (laughs). Believe me, playing football was much easier than this. I like a challenge, though, and I like responsibilities, so here we are.
Does it not make you want to get on the pitch and start playing again?
That’s something that never leaves you. I get butterflies before a stint in the commentary box, just like I did when I was playing. I can picture myself on Wednesday, getting all excited about another World Cup with Chile. And I won’t even tell you how I’ll be feeling when they play the national anthem.
What other teams are you looking forward to seeing?
The Netherlands are always well worth paying to see. They play exciting, attacking football and they have some top-quality players. They could be the surprise team of the World Cup. Then there’s the two favourites: Brazil and Spain.
You played for many years in Italy. What is your take on the defending world champions?
Italy are always there or thereabouts and the last two times they won the World Cup, in 1982 and in 2006, they started off badly. That’s why you always need to be careful with them. Their strength lies in the experience of the players and Marcello Lippi, and they’re in a fairly straightforward group too. They’re a threat for sure.
And one to watch out for?
Nobody likes to play Germany. When you get drawn against them you usually end up cursing your luck. It won’t be any different this time either.
Which players are you excited about seeing in action?
I really wanted to see [Lionel] Messi and boy, did I see him? He’s the world’s best and he keeps on proving it. There’s Cristiano Ronaldo too. I want to see how fit he is, what kind of form he’s in and how Portugal operate around him. And then there’s Luis Fabiano, who could be a big star here.
One last question, and its about goalscorers as well. Why do you think most of the goals we have seen so far have been scored by defenders and midfielders?
I think it has a lot to do with the fact that coaches are scared. Their first concern is to defend rather than attack and that means the strikers are having less chances. And when they get them they’re snatching at them a little. It’s happened to [Diego] Forlan, [Gonzalo] Higuain and [Wayne] Rooney. Even so, they’re still all in the frame to finish the tournament as top scorer.