Chile willl look to take the initiative, play high-tempo, high-pressure football against the Socceroos at the World Cup. So the question is just how will Ange Postecoglou's side respond?
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6 Apr 2014 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 14 May 2014 - 1:26 PM

In the final of the 2004 Copa America in Peru, Argentina dominated an experimental Brazil side. With three minutes to go La Albiceleste went 2-1 up. Surely the title was won.

But with the last kick of the game, Brazil scored the equaliser. Argentina blundered into the penalty shootout with the air of men who had been blinded by the light, and Brazil kept its nerve to lift the trophy.

It was an exceptionally painful defeat for Argentina – it had not won a senior title since 1993, and really believed that the wait had come to an end.

However, in the post-match press conference, characteristically, then-coach Marcelo Bielsa wanted to talk tactics. "We have shown that there are other ways to play football as well as 4-3-1-2," he said.

What is the relevance of this story from a decade ago? It is that Australia's opening World Cup opponent is coached by a self-confessed Bielsa disciple.

Soon after that game, Bielsa took Argentina to the Olympic gold medal in Athens. Then he resigned, and after a lengthy break to recharge his batteries, he set about changing Chilean football. He gave Chile an identity, something it had always lacked, and took it to the last World Cup, where its attacking approach captured the hearts of neutrals.

Bielsa kept his distance from the Chilean domestic game but the local clubs were impressed with what he had done, and soon Bielsa clones started popping up all over the country.

The most successful was his fellow Argentina, Jorge Sampaoli, who enjoyed a sensational spell in charge of the Universidad de Chile club before taking over the national team. Now he looks to plot the downfall of the Socceroos come June.

Back to that afternoon in Lima in 2004. I worked that game for an English TV channel. The ex-pro pundits, both before and after the match, were critical of the fact that Bielsa had changed the formation of his side to face Brazil.

He had introduced an extra centre-back, playing Coloccini and Heinze together with Ayala in the heart of the defence. Why change the structure of a team that had been winning in style?

It struck me that they had not grasped what Bielsa was trying to do. The Argentina coach wanted to attack. In this situation he saw the conventional full-back as a waste of a player.

Bielsa had no time for the idea that one full-back should stay and give cover if the other pushed forward. His system required both full-backs to push forward at the same time.

He was looking to press the opponent in its own half of the field, keep it under pressure and constantly form two-against-one situations down the flanks.

In order to free the full-backs he needed a spare defender. If the opponent – as almost all Argentina's rivals in the competition – attacked with one out-and-out striker, then Bielsa wanted two centre-backs; one to mark, one to cover.

Brazil, though, offered a different challenge. It played with two centre-forwards, Luis Fabiano and Adriano. So an adjustment was needed. This time his system needed three defenders, two to mark and one to cover.

Adding an extra centre-back was the price he had to pay in order to maintain his two simultaneously attacking full-backs. The characteristics of the opposition forced him to change in order to stay the same.

For Bielsa in 2004, read Sampaoli in 2014. Chile's coach makes it clear that the style of his team is non-negotiable. Whoever the opponent, wherever the game is played, his side will seek to take the initiative, play high-tempo, high-pressure football.

Carrying out such a strategy will mean that at times it is necessary to make tactical adjustments. So like Bielsa's Argentina of a decade ago, Sampaoli's Chile also switches between different formations.

Whatever happens, he is likely to choose a front three. Given the problems that Chile currently has at centre-forward, there could well be a 'false nine' – the talented but brittle Jorge Valdivia is a strong candidate to start against Australia, with Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas pushed wide ahead of him.

It is more doubtful that Valdivia will feature in the initial line-up against Spain and Netherlands – much will depend on the group situation. But the idea of a front three, stretching the opposition by using the full width of the pitch, is likely to be maintained.

The key variation, as with Bielsa in 2004, will almost certainly come at the back. In the seven World Cup qualifiers played under Sampaoli, three times Chile started with three central defenders, while on the other occasions he played two in a back four – with the full-backs given licence to push forward.

In recent internationals against Spain and Germany Sampaoli played three defenders. Against Iraq and England it was two in a back four. Against Brazil last November he started with a back three, but reorganised after an early injury.

The most likely scenario against Australia is one in which Sampaoli expects the Socceroos to pull men behind the ball, and play a lone out and-out striker – in which case he will play two centre-backs, one to mark, one to cover, with a defensive midfielder in front (probably Marcelo Diaz, a specialist in organising the play from deep).

Chile's full-backs, Mauricio Isla on the right and Eugenio Mena on the left, will push relentlessly forward, and will look to create those two-against-ones down the flanks and squeeze Australia back in its own half.

Win, lose or draw, Sampaoli will surely want to talk tactics after the clash with the Socceroos in Cuiaba.

At this point I would like to throw it open for debate; what kind of problems do readers imagine that Ange Postecoglu's team can cause Chile?