Rags to riches Sanchez leads Chiles charge
Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez has come a long way from washing cars in his native Chile just to make enough money to feed himself.
At 25, Sanchez is preparing for his second World Cup in the prime of his career.
It could have been so different. Money was tight in his home city of Tocopilla where he cleaned cars to earn money and the local mayor gave him his first pair of football boots.
"If it weren't for football I would still be washing cars and pushing carts" he said in an interview with newspaper El Pais.
But Italian side Udinese signed Sanchez as a teenager and his raw talent was on show in South Africa in 2010. An exciting Chile dazzled before being dumped out by defeats to eventual champions Spain and then Brazil in the last 16.
"At the World Cup I was liberated and matured about 80 percent," Sanchez told El Pais.
Following the World Cup, he went onto become Serie A's Player of the Year in the 2010/11 season - no small feat as Udinese are not one of Italian football's traditional powers.
His performances attracted the attention of Barcelona who spent 26 million euros ($36 million) to make him the first Chilean to play for the Catalan giants.
The past three years have proved a struggle, though, as Sanchez has failed to live up to the hype that surrounded his transfer.
He was widely mocked in the Spanish media after describing himself as being a "great player" in an interview last year.
- Liberated -
This season has at least produced his best goal return, but even then he has often been a peripheral figure when it comes to the biggest games.
However, with Chile he appears like a different player. The extra responsibility of not being surrounded by a host of superstars brings the best out of his abilities.
"To start with, I feel more liberated with Chile because it is a different way of playing," he explains.
"The work is less demanding at Barca. In the national team I work three times as hard because the game goes back and forward all the time. Barca is unique, no other team in the world plays like that. There will not be another team in history that has so much talent and plays as well."
A meeting with many of his Barca teammates lies in wait for Sanchez as the World Cup draw set out a path for Jorge Sampaoli's side as demanding as the one they faced four years ago.
As well as being paired with both the reigning champions Spain and 2010 finalists the Netherlands in Group B, Chile could also face Brazil once more in the last 16.
Spain boss Vicente del Bosque insisted before and after the draw that Chile was the one side he did not want to face, following their impressive display in a 2-2 draw between the sides in a friendly last September.
Yet, despite Chile's rise in the FIFA rankings and profile around the world thanks to players like Sanchez and Juventus' Arturo Vidal, the Barcelona man admitted that he would happily settle for second place in the group behind Spain.
"It is nice that Spain show respect towards us because they are the champions, but we have been put in the hardest group of all and I would sign for finishing second with Spain going through too."
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