Why Chile is not about to fall off a cliff
Several top teams will not be at the 2018 World Cup. You know about Italy, the Netherlands and United States but at number 10 in the FIFA World Rankings Chile is arguably the most surprising outcast. La Roja won the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas, beating Lionel Messi and Argentina on both occasions, and finished second in the 2017 Confederations Cup to World Cup holders Germany. A negative run in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers, where they lost three of their final four matches, left them on the outside looking in at Russia 2018. They missed out on the playoff against New Zealand to Peru based solely on goal difference.
Naturally that led to changes. Jorge Sampaoli's successor in the dugout, Juan Antonio Pizzi, left the team. Reinaldo Rueda took his place. Rueda already knows what is like to undergo massive changes at the international level. He has taken both Ecuador and Honduras to the World Cup. Fans and media in Chile hope he can do the same for La Roja in 2022. Then again massive change shouldn't be required. Unlike Ecuador and Honduras, Chile already have an established team that is loaded with world-class and first-tier talent.
Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel, Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas, and Alexis Sanchez lead the way but there are other players worth watching. Charles Aranguiz plays for Bayer Leverkusen. Nicolas Castillo has spent time in Belgium and Italy. Enzo Roco used to play in Spain. Paulo Diaz is a top defender in the Argentina Super League. Except for Aranguiz, all of them are no older than 25.
There are even more young stars who could become important players down the road. Erick Pulgar has settled as a starter for Bologna in Serie A. Igor Lichnovsky and Valber Huerta are both under-25 players who could easily be playing in Europe. Felipe Mora has thrived in the Liga MX. Martin Rodriguez and Angelo Sagal also have potential.
Add them into a mix that already features veterans Alexis, Vidal, Medel, and Vargas, and Rueda could have his rebuild in place in time to defend the Copa America title in 2019. The new manager has already acknowledged Chile is not far from competing at the highest level again. If its players live up to expectations La Roja can join Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay as perennial contenders for South American and World Cup honours.
Admittedly the younger players must improve and mature. Making the jump to Europe is obviously advisable although La Roja legends Jean Beausejour and Jorge Valdivia only had short, undistinguished careers in England and the Emirates respectively.
Rueda has already begun the rebuilding process. A sneak preview of his work will be available today when the side takes on Sweden at the Friends Arena in Stockholm. While the Swedes will be sorting out their 23-man squad for Russia, Rueda and Chile have the opportunity to prove to doubters that the qualification failure doesn't mean the team is about to fall off a cliff.
Quite the opposite. This side is bound to remain competitive for years to come. They have the manager, the world-class players, and a thriving, monied domestic league that churns out young prospects. Rueda simply must bring it all together.