CUIABA, Brazil — Alexis Sanchez produced a dynamic performance to lead Chile to a 3-1 win over Australia in the World Cup on Friday, scoring one goal and setting up another for one of the dangerous outsiders in the tournament.
Chile threatened to run away with the game in muggy Cuiaba when Sanchez poked home from close range in the 12th minute, before setting up Jorge Valdivia barely a minute later for the playmaker to finish from the edge of the area.
But Australia recovered well, responding with a trademark headed goal by star forward Tim Cahill in the 35th and giving the Chileans a string of scares in the second half. However, Jean Beausejour put the game away for Chile in injury time to help the South Americans level on three points in Group B with the Netherlands, which thrashed Spain 5-1 earlier Friday.
Boasting its best ever squad for a World Cup, Chile has been strongly tipped by many — including Pele — to go far in Brazil despite being thrown in the same group as two of Europe's top teams.
And the Spanish, ripped apart by the Dutch in Salvador, will not be relishing playing Chile in their next game on Wednesday, with the holders' title defense on the line.
Spain's players will know all about Sanchez as he has spent the last three years at Barcelona, and the sprightly forward carried over his most prolific season at Camp Nou here against a flimsy Australia defense.
Sanchez was on hand to guide in a close-range finish inside the near post after Australia captain Mile Jedinak failed to head clear Charles Aranguiz's cross. The celebrations had hardly died down when Sanchez span his marker and laid the ball across for Valdivia to finish high into the net from 20 yards (meters).
"It's gut wrenching to be honest," Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said. "In the end, we gave away a two-goal start and that's what killed us."
It was already looking like a damage-limitation exercise for the beleaguered Socceroos, the lowest-ranked nation in Brazil. The raucous Chilean fans were regaling their team's crisp passing with chants "Ole" and a no-look backheel from Sanchez highlighted his confidence.
But Chile's momentum was punctured when Cahill, renowned for his tremendous jumping ability, leapt above diminutive marker Gary Medel to thump home a header from a right-wing cross.
"They got in twice," Cahill said. "(But) after that you could see their legs were going. We knew we could get something out of this game. We stood up strong. It's just unfortunate, not a lot went our way tonight, and it showed."
The New York Red Bulls star then squandered chances either side of halftime before another fine header was ruled out for offside.
Chile still looked dangerous going forward — Eduardo Vargas had a shot cleared off the line — but Australia remained in the game right until the end, when Beausejour drilled in a low shot from 30 yards in the second minute of injury time. Fireworks exploded after being thrown onto the pitch.
Arturo Vidal started and played 59 minutes for Chile on his return from injury.