Marcelo Bielsa has played down suggestions he has unfinished business at the FIFA World Cup™. The Chile coach failed to get past the group stage when he led his native Argentina into the 2002 tournament, with his side losing to England and drawing with Sweden.
However, the 54-year-old has recovered from that disappointment and is returning to the global stage for a second time, with a re-invigorated Chile team.
"My last appearance at the World Cup was eight years ago," said Bielsa, ahead of Chile's tournament opener against Honduras in Nelspruit tomorrow. "It is not totally comparable, it is something else. I simply feel older. Time passes, eight years, and that tends to worsen your character and your health - I'm certainly worse than I was."
With a vibrant, attacking style, Chile powered into 2010 South Africa finals, finishing second only to Brazil in the South American qualifying section. It is Chile's first FIFA World Cup for 12 years and Bielsa has been rewarded with an offer of citizenship from his adopted homeland.
Chile are fancied in some quarters to qualify from Group H, which also includes Switzerland and Spain, but Bielsa is placing no expectation on his players. "The players expect the same as the Chilean public - to have a very good World Cup," he said. "We have no targets. I think we have done all the necessary steps to prepare for this important competition without major difficulty, or just the normal difficulties at least. We are fine and we are ready to begin."
The build-up to Chile's first game has been dominated by concerns over the fitness of star striker Humberto Suazo. The Real Zaragoza striker, who was top scorer in South American qualifying with ten goals, has been doubtful for the clash at the Mbombela Stadium with a hamstring injury.
But the 29-year-old has trained this week and, although not match fit, Bielsa has no doubts he is ready to play some part. "The player has been able to train over the last three days and he has been able to train fully 100%," he said. "If you are asking me if he is in the same shape as before his injury, of course he is not. But if you ask me if he is he healthy, yes. He is healthy and he can now assume the same roles as the other players.
"I would never risk putting an injured player into any match in any competition for no reason - but this isn't the case with Suazo, although he is not in the same shape yet as before his injury."
Bielsa is wary of the threat posed by Honduras, particularly from Tottenham Hotspur's Wilson Palacios and Genoa striker David Suazo, although the latter - like his Chilean namesake - is an injury doubt.
"They are a good team with good players at the front and the back," Bielsa said. "Suazo and Palacios are very good players, I know that, but there are also other good players in the Honduras team."
Chile have not won a match at a FIFA World Cup since 1962 when, as hosts, they reached the semi-finals. They did reach the second round on the back of three draws in 1998 but their winless run over those 48 years stretches to 13 games.
Bielsa, having built his team around a core that finished third in the 2007 Under-20 World Cup, is certainly hoping to put that right. "This is a good generation of young players," he said. "They are very close and they have a great expectation."