Chile beat Bolivia as international friendlies return to South America again

There are, of course, no 2022 World Cup qualifiers taking place in South America during these FIFA international dates as the COVID-19 pandemic forced a suspension, largely based on the worrying situation in Brazil. Chile, though, are using the time to fix up a couple of friendlies: Next week they face Ecuador, while on Friday night in Rancagua they won 2-1 over Bolivia.

There was little opportunity to play international matches in South America last year. The first four rounds of the marathon CONMEBOL World Cup qualification campaign were played, but there was no space for anything else. In fact, the match between Chile and Bolivia was the first friendly featuring a South American side since November 2019.

The game also marked the debut of Chile's new coach, the experienced Uruguayan Martin Lasarte. The position had become vacant because Colombia sacked their coach, former Real Madrid boss and Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz, and Chile's highly regarded Reinaldo Rueda found the idea of taking charge of his native Colombia more attractive than staying with Chile.

Rueda went home, and after spending a while looking round for more high-profile replacements, Lasarte was chosen based on a track record that is solid rather than spectacular, a salary that is not exorbitant and considerable knowledge of Chilean football.

It is not hard to understand why Rueda jumped ship. Chile are living through the hangover after the golden years. The Copa America triumphs of 2015 and 2016 were the team's first pieces of silverware. Expectations have been raised and it is hard to see how the current Chile side can live up to them.

There have been two problems. First, the golden generation have aged together. Second, the failure to qualify for the last World Cup opened up strains in what had always been a difficult dressing room. Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez have long vied for supremacy, and missing out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia sparked an ugly spat between Vidal and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

The immediate solution was to drop Bravo. But after the 2019 Copa America it was decided that the team still needed him and he was recalled. On Friday, with neither Vidal or Sanchez available, Bravo was restored as captain for the first time since 2017. It was as if Lasarte was proclaiming a new era; the arguments of the past belong to the past.

But there is still space for Bravo in this new era, even though the Real Betis keeper is approaching 38 years old, and there is also room for the recall of another veteran.

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Luis Jimenez is an elegant playmaker who had an unsuccessful loan spell with West Ham in the Premier League back in 2009-10. Now playing in Chile, after wandering all over the globe, he has been in fine form for Santiago side Palestino and his nickname of "the wizard" has never suited him better.

Jimenez's previous game for his country was a friendly against France in August 2011, when he was substituted at half-time in a 1-1 draw. On Friday, he began the Lasarte era as a roving centre-forward in a 4-3-3. The idea was clear: Lasarte was looking for plenty of width, with the pacy duo of Fabian Orellana and Jean Meneses working the flanks, and Jimenez was there to coordinate things, to drop deep and allow the wingers to stay high, to link the play and occasionally to make a nuisance of himself in the penalty area.

It took him little more than 10 minutes to open the scoring. He won a free kick on the Chilean right and Orellana's delivery deflected off a defender, falling for Jimenez to beat the keeper with a neat left turn and shot. If the goal scored vindicated Lasarte's decision to recall Jimenez, the coach would have been even more pleased with the second goal. Cesar Pinares broke through from midfield and slipped a pass left to Meneses, attacking the left edge of the penalty area; he went inside and then outside the defender, making space to plant a left footed shot inside the far corner.

In between came a Bolivian equaliser -- one which, from the point of view of an ex-defender like Lasarte, must be a cause for concern. Defending in the air has caused Chile problems for years and, once more, their defence was beaten from a corner as centre-forward Marcelo Martins Moreno climbed above them to score with a powerful header. A taller goalkeeper (or a younger Bravo) might have been able to tip it over, but it squeezed in under the bar.

Bolivia made a late rally, and the home defence found it hard to handle the physicality of the Bolivian centre forward. Seeking an equaliser, the Bolivian bench howled in protest that Martins Moreno was fouled inside the area, but the referee was unconvinced and Chile hung on.

Chile under Lasarte are off to a winning start and, in this low profile way, international football in South America is up and running again in 2021.