TOKYO - JANUARY 26: Seiichiro Maki of Japan and Gary Medel of Chile in action during international friendly match between Japan and Chile at the National Stadium on January 26, 2008 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
FIFA RANK: 17
It sometimes takes a "madman" to restore order to a lost soccer nation and the coach leading Chile's national team into South Africa this summer is just that and more.
Marcelo Bielsa is nicknamed "El Loco" for his unusual ideas, his insane attention to detail and over the top demand for discipline from his players.
It's like playing for the Bobby Knight of soccer, but its exactly what "La Roja" needed to turn around its culture and qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 12 years.
Bielsa was hired after a disasterous '07 Copa America where six Chilean national players were kicked off the team for bad conduct during the South American championship.
But it took time for the tide to turn in La Roja's favor. A young Chilean squad suffered early, blow out losses to Paraguay and Brazil in qualifying, but came together throughout the rest of the campaign to finish a point behind Brazil in second place. It was a remarkable turnaround that included La Roja's first competitive win over Argentina.
Needless to say, everyone in Chile has now bought into "El Loco's" unique ways, but it will be interesting to see how this young team reacts to the pressure of playing in their first World Cup in over a decade.
There is some experience up front with striker Humberto Suazo and on the back line, Gary Medel, has turned into a solid defender. Still the man i'd keep an eye on is 24 year old midfielder Matias Fernandez, who plays professionally in Portugal. Fernandez is the creative cog who puts Bielsa's all out attacking game plan into motion.
There are a number of things Chile is playing for this summer. Lost in the World Cup fever is the fact this country is still recovering from a devastating earthquake and the players want to give a lift to their fans back home. And despite being one of the oldest soccer competing nations in the World, La Roja is better known for a scandal in the early 90's that banned them from the '94 cup and for performing under their talent level.
But experts suggest this year may be different and all it took was a "madman" to restore some order to Chile's national pride.
June 16 vs. Honduras - 6:30 a.m. CT (Possibly best match of the group, expect a wide open affair)
June 21 vs. Switzerland - 9 a.m. CT (Another tight match, I like Chile's offense to pull out the win)
June 25 vs. Spain - 1:30 p.m. CT (Spain may not need the points which is good news for La Roja)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: MEXICO