With 18 games to play over the fourth-largest continent in the world, qualifying for the World Cup from the South America is no walk in the park, particularly given the calibre of the opposition.
So, much like a regular club season, by the time all games have been played, there can be little doubt that the final positions offer a fair gauge of the strengths of the teams involved. Brazil unsurprisingly finished top, but it was Chile who finished in second place – ahead of the likes of Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay – offering a hint as to the threat they will bring to South Africa.
They recorded wins against fellow finalists Argentina and Paraguay in the process and it was a Chilean who topped the goalscoring charts – Humberto Suazo’s ten goals putting him just ahead of Brazils’ Luis Fabiano.
Chile have lost only one of their last five friendly games, and will arrive to their first World Cup since 1998, when a Marcelo Salas-inspired team made it through to the last 16 before eventual-finalists Brazil put an end to their campaign.
Yet, after drawing each of their three group games in France, Chile are still to win a World Cup game outside of South America. Now under the guidance of former Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa and with exciting attacking talent such as Suazo, Alexis Sanchez and Matias Fernandez, this side should be more than capable of putting an end to that unwanted record.
In the last year they’ve registered wins in Denmark, Slovakia and South Africa, showing signs that any previous trouble on the road has been forgotten.
Spain will surely top Group H, but a stubborn Swiss side and an inexperienced Honduras outfit will struggle to keep the shackles on La Roja, who scored 32 goals in qualifying – only one behind top scorers Brazil. So qualification should be achieved, but given that Dunga’s men could well be lying in wait in the last 16, that will be where it ends, just as in 1998.