It has been ten long years since Chile last graced the FIFA World Cup™ finals. Shorn of the deadly strike duo once formed by Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas, the South Americans have met with nothing but failure in their subsequent attempts to rejoin the world elite.

In an ambitious effort to reverse the national team's fortunes, the Chilean Football Association called on the services of Marcelo Bielsa, one of the most respected coaches on the continent. Expectations soared as the Argentinian settled into the hotseat, but the much-hoped-for revolution has so far failed to materialise. Bielsa's new charges have been anything but consistent in the opening laps of the latest South American qualifying race and currently lie seventh in the group, two points away from fifth place and the play-off spot. checks out how LaRoja are shaping up as they bid for a berth at South Africa 2010.

Argentina 2-0 Chile
Chile 2-0 Peru
Uruguay 2-2 Chile
Chile 0-3 Paraguay

The positives
Bielsa's appointment has brought about visible changes in the Chilean set-up, with the fast-tracking of bright young talents and a more attacking mindset away from home. After welcoming veteran marksman Marcelo Salas back to the fold, ElLoco masterminded a convincing win in the Pacific derby against neighbours Peru, not to mention a first-ever draw away to Uruguay at the Estadio Centenario, without doubt the high points of the campaign so far.

The negatives
Despite Bielsa's new broom, Chile have failed to build up any kind of momentum. Just three days after picking up that historic point in Montevideo, La Roja were thumped 3-0 by Paraguay in Santiago, their worst ever home defeat in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. And with four games gone already, the Chileans have accrued only four points, the same number they had acquired at the same stage in the two previous campaigns, both of which ended in disappointment.

Their finest hour
Chile 2-2 Uruguay
Goals: Luis Suarez 41, Sebastian Abreu 81 (Uruguay); Marcelo Salas, 59, 69 pen (Chile)

The pick of their opening performances came on their trip to Uruguay on matchday three. Coming from behind courtesy of a Salas double, Chile more than held their own and were just nine minutes away from claiming a maiden win at the legendary Centenario. Although victory ultimately eluded them, the encouraging draw had the fans believing a top-four finish was possible. Paraguay's visit the following week soon brought the Chilean faithful back down to earth, however.

The key men
Much is expected of Matias Fernandez and Alexis Sanchez, the two most promising youngsters to emerge through the ranks in recent times. And although the Villarreal midfielder has yet to blossom on the international stage, he did serve notice of his talents with a superb goal in the 2-0 defeat of Peru. Sanchez, meanwhile, has seen his progress hampered by injury and has yet to figure in the qualifiers.

Leading the line with distinction for the Chileans has been the 33-year-old Marcelo Salas, the national side's leading goalscorer. After coming out of retirement, ElMatador showed his poaching powers remain undimmed with that crucial brace against the Uruguayans. While he may lack the explosive power of his heyday, Salas is a leader both on and off the pitch and a vital presence in an otherwise youthful squad anxious to put Chilean football back on the map.

The numbers game
The personnel may change but history keeps repeating itself for La Roja. Just as they did in the qualifying competitions for Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006, the faltering Chileans have amassed only four points in their opening four games on the road to South Africa 2010.

Next up

In conclusion
"Losing to Paraguay hurts but we're not dead yet. There's still a long way to go and we need to stay positive. I think this defeat was more down to a lack of sharpness than anything else and I'm absolutely convinced this squad can turn things around in the next few games." Striker Marcelo Salas gives his reaction following the home defeat to Paraguay.