Chile hold thumbs for 2010 slot

PARIS - If ever an international football team merited the tag of perennial bridesmaids, it is Chile.

The country's football federation was founded in 1895 and Chile were one of the four founding members of the South American federation Conmebol in 1916.

Chile have appeared at 35 Copa Americas, six times as hosts, but have nothing more than four runners-up finishes to show for their efforts.

Their best World Cup showing was when, as hosts, they reached the semifinals in 1962.

La Roja have not graced the sport's greatest tournament since 1998, but recent developments suggest the nation's football fortunes may be about to change.

Indeed, 2007 marked a turning point in the national set-up, with enigmatic former Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa, 53, taking the reins of the senior side.

This was after a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of eventual winners Brazil, who had ended Chile's participation in that year's Copa America.

The Argentine inherited an ageing squad and quickly set about injecting some youth but the results, to begin with, were mixed.

In their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign Chile earned their first-ever point against Uruguay in Montevideo and also recorded their first ever win over Argentina in a World Cup qualifier.

Back-to-back wins in Paraguay (2-1) and at home to Bolivia (4-0) at the beginning of June have lifted them to second in the South American standings, one point behind group leaders Brazil with just four matches remaining. Taxing trips to Brazil and Colombia await, but with the top four teams qualifying automatically, the finals in South Africa are in sight. - AFP