Chile coach Bielsa hoping to make knockout stage after failing with Argentina in 2002

By Mark Walsh, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chile coach Bielsa looking for WCup redemption

NELSPRUIT, South Africa — Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa is looking to redeem himself at the World Cup after failing to take his native Argentina through the group stage of the 2002 tournament.

Bielsa says his previous experience as Argentina coach would have no bearing on this campaign.

He says “eight years have gone by and they are totally different experiences. I’m older, that’s the only change in me since then.”

The coach known as “El Loco” — the Crazy One — led Chile over Honduras 1-0 Wednesday to break the country’s 48-year winless streak at the World Cup.

Bielsa says “our objective is to write new records and be remembered.”

Bielsa earned his nickname for his intense manner and he doesn’t seem to mind the tag.

“It’s a fair name I’ve been given because of some of the more exaggerated aspects of my personality,” he said.

Bielsa has rebuilt his coaching reputation since becoming Chile boss in 2007 and taking the national team to second place behind Brazil in the South American qualifiers for this World Cup.

Chile fans at the match against Honduras on Wednesday unfurled a giant banner before kick off reading “Marcelo Bielsa: Chile thanks you” — proof of the regard in which he is held.

It’s not just soccer fans who have fallen for the Argentine. In April, former president Michelle Bachelet told a TV program about Bielsa’s life that “he has that fatal combination for women between being handsome and mysterious.

“I think he’s attractive, an interesting guy,” she said. “When I first met him he caught my attention as a very intelligent person, very cultured and very austere,” she said.

After winning Argentine league titles with Newell’s Old Boys at the beginning of the 1990s, Bielsa was marked as one of Argentina’s top young coaches.

He graduated to become Argentine national boss in 1998 but his reputation took a knock when the team was knocked out of the 2002 World Cup finals at the group stage and he resigned two years later.

Bielsa’s current charges are many people’s outside bet at this World Cup.

The meticulous Argentine has built an incisive attack around striker Humberto Suazo, who top scored with 10 goals in the South American qualifiers.

Suazo is supported by elusive forwards such as Matias Fernandez and Jorge Valdivia, as well as wide men Alexis Sanchez and Jean Beausejour, with the latter scoring the winner against Honduras on Wednesday.

The defense is marshalled by Boca Juniors stopper Gary Medel, whose positioning sense makes up for his lack of stature.

Suazo’s fitness — he injured his left thigh against Israel in a pre-World Cup friendly and was rested against Honduras — could be key to the side’s hopes.

But if Bielsa can mastermind Chile’s progress into the latter stages of the tournament, his reputation as one of the world’s top coaches will be reinstated.

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