Praise has flooded in for coach Marcelo Bielsa for leading Chile to the World Cup finals in such convincing and attractive style – and rightly so. The Argentinian has clearly done an exceptional job, inheriting a squad in some disarray following the 2007 Copa America and moulding them into a side considered by some to be dark horses in South Africa.
Perhaps it was a good time to take over as the raw material was there, for while Chile’s senior side, under Nelson Acosta, were falling apart in that Copa America, the Under-20s were in Canada on their way to third place in the World Youth Cup. This was excellent news for Bielsa, whose commitment to high tempo, attacking football needs young legs to put it into practice. Several of that Under-20 side have progressed into the World Cup line-up – and if not the most eye catching, one of the most important is midfielder Carmona.
A regular member of the first-team line-up of Coquimbo, his hometown club, at the age of 18, Carmona featured in the World Youth Cups of 2005 and 2007. Together with some of his colleagues from the latter, he went to the Toulon youth tournament of 2008 which is where, with time to work with his players, it all came together for Bielsa’s Chile. His team were never really at their best during the World Cup qualification campaign, but after Toulon he was ready to make the generational change. For the next round of qualifiers, the fifth, Carmona was introduced, along with fellow 2007 graduates Alexis Sanchez and Gary Medel. All came in and stayed in.
Carmona has usually filled the vital central midfield role in Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3 formation, though he has also operated on the right and can play in a number of positions. What he brings to them all is lung power and aggressive tackling, the very type of dynamism that Bielsa’s system requires if the ball is to be won as far up the pitch as possible. It is this extra athleticism that has given Carmona the nod over the classy Claudio Maldonado, his closest rival for the defensive midfield position.
So far, the results speak for themselves. Carmona played in 11 rounds of the qualification campaign. There were three defeats: home and away to Brazil, and at altitude in Ecuador. But he took part in six victories, including a historic win over Argentina and an excellent one away to Paraguay.
The downside is the disciplinary consequence of his enthusiastic tackling. Now in his second season with Reggina in Italy, Carmona has picked up three separate suspensions during the campaign, accumulating six yellow cards. If the criteria in South Africa is as strict as it was in last year’s Confederations Cup then he is a prime candidate for cautions in June and July.
There will be plenty of nerves around the Chile camp when they open their World Cup campaign against Honduras. Even more than the other young graduates of 2007, Carmona will need to ensure that he controls his aggression.