<
>

Chile national team in state of flux after missing 2018 World Cup

play
Is patience wearing thin for Man United's Alexis Sanchez? (0:44)

The critics are already out on Man United's latest big money signing Alexis Sanchez, who has struggled as of yet to make a splash at his new club. (0:44)

The 2022 World Cup starts in Scandinavia for Chile, who will play their first matches under new coach Reinaldo Rueda against Sweden and Denmark in the next few days.

"The players have a challenge ahead of them," Rueda said earlier this month. "They have to replace and aim to equal the feats of a historic generation for the national team."

The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal are still around, for the time being, as is Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla. Those four came through the 2007 Under-20 World Cup together and went on to form the greatest team in Chile's history -- the only one to get their hands on some silverware. But what comes after the Copa America triumphs of 2015 and 2016?

The team aged together and ran out of steam towards the end of the 2018 qualifiers. After two successful World Cups -- Chile's best ever with the exception of 1962, which they hosted, they now have to sit this one out and build for the future.

Rueda is well aware that the challenge he describes is a tough one; as a Colombian, Rueda recalls how difficult it was for his native country to substitute the generation of Carlos Valderrama and company. Or how Peru struggled to replace Teofilo Cubillas and his gang. And how Paraguay are struggling now.

The signs for Chile are not promising. While the national team have been doing well, the domestic game -- from where future players will be plucked -- has been badly underperforming.

In the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League, only one Chilean club in the last five years has made it out of the group phase and into the last 16. Only Venezuela and Peru have performed so poorly.

That pattern has repeated itself this year. In the Copa Sudamericana, the Europa League equivalent, Everton of Vina del Mar were eliminated by Caracas of Venezuela, while Union Espanola fell to Sport Huancayo of Peru.

In the Libertadores, Universidad Concepcion were thrashed home and away by Vasco da Gama in the qualifying round. Santiago giants Colo Colo, the domestic champions, lost tamely at home to Atletico Nacional of Colombia.

But a ray of hope came last week. Universidad de Chile travelled to Rio de Janeiro and beat Vasco 1-0. The result was not the only morale booster. There was also the performance of the goalscorer, Angelo Araos.

The 21-year-old support striker is in his first season with a big Santiago club after impressing with Antofagasta in the north. The Vasco match was the biggest game in his life, and he was the classiest presence on the field.

Club coach Angel Guillermo Hoyos is an Argentine who once worked with Barcelona's youth sides, where he helped develop a certain Lionel Messi. Hoyos is impressed by what he is seeing from Araos, comparing him to the great Uruguayan Enzo Francescoli for the elegant way he rolls past defenders.

Araos has not been included in Reinaldo Rueda's first squad. But it can maintain his level of progress with La U, as Universidad de Chile are known, then an international call up cannot be far away. And if Chile are to rise to the challenge of replacing the likes of Alexis Sanchez, then Araos could be part of the solution.