Brazil vs Chile: Can Chile's mastermind coach pull off an upset?

The soccer juggernauts of South America are expected to outshine a sturdy Chilean team in today's Brazil vs Chile match. But not if Chile's coach, Marcelo 'El Loco' Bielsa, has anything to say about it.

By , Staff writer

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    'EL LOCO': Chile's coach Marcelo 'El Loco' Bielsa gestures during last week's 2010 World Cup Group H match against Spain at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. His tactics could be key to today's Brazil vs. Chile match.
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Brazil hopes to take another step toward its sixth World Cup title today when it takes on Chile in Johannesburg.

Brazil has won the last five meetings between the teams and scored 20 goals in the process, to Chile's five goals.

That's an average margin of victory of three goals per game.

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But only the staunchest Brazil fan would bet on them maintaining that average against a Chilean team that has surprised onlookers in South Africa with their attacking panache.

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Chile’s surprising performance is due largely to their Argentine coach, Marcelo Bielsa. One of the most respected coaches in the region, Bielsa is known as “El Loco” or the Madman. After meeting him, I could see why.

I came across Mr. Bielsa at the Copa America in 1999 when he was manager of Argentina's national soccer team. He was intensely uncomfortable when speaking in public, answering in short, clipped sentences and unwilling – or unable – to look at questioners in the eye.

That could be the reason for his unusual nickname. But it could also come from his fanatical devotion to statistics and strategies. Bielsa reportedly has rooms filled with files and DVDs on teams and players.

He will need all that knowledge if Chile is to do the unexpected today and knock out the world's No. 1-ranked team.

Brazil will be back at full strength with Elano, Kaka, and Robinho returning to the starting lineup after missing Friday’s 0-0 draw against Portugal.

Those changes will come as a relief to their fans, as Brazil sorely lacked a creative spark against the Portuguese. They will rely on Kaka or Robinho to unlock the Chilean defense, as their replacements are not in the same class.

As Paulo Vinicius Coelho put it in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper: “If the first team can win the Cup, the reserves cause panic.”

The blessing for Brazilian coach Dunga is that all of the players in his starting lineup, except Felipe Melo, are fit and ready to play.

Chile's coach Bielsa, meanwhile, has no such luck. Defenders Waldo Ponce and Gary Medel will sit this one out after picking up cautions in the group stages, while midfielder Marco Estrada, who was terribly unlucky to be sent off against Spain, will also miss out. (Having said that, Chile committed 62 fouls in the first round, more than any other team.)

Brazil and Chile topped the South American qualifying group. This game is not a dissimilar match-up to the Mexico-Argentina match, which the South Americans won 3-1 on Sunday.

But if both Brazil and Chile come ready to play soccer, it could be a humdinger.

To have any chance of progressing, Chile will need to be at their best and Brazil will have to have an off day.

Stranger things have happened.

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