Soccer-World-Boy wonder Alexis carrying Chilean hopes in Brazil

By Iain Rogers MADRID, April 28 (Reuters) - There are many examples of players who have shrugged off the poverty of formative years to become household names but Chile forward Alexis Sanchez can point to a background that was about as tough as they come. Born in Tocopilla in Chile's northern mining region, a grim port city dominated by a gigantic power plant and a saltpeter processing facility, Alexis barely knew his father and was raised by a mother who scraped a living as a cleaner at her son's school. Like many of his peers, all Alexis wanted to do was play soccer but he had to take odd jobs like cleaning cars while still at school to supplement the family income. His talent shone through from an early age, earning him the nickname "El Nino Maravilla" (Boy Wonder), and he quickly realised soccer offered a way out that would also allow him to help his mother and family. "When I was a kid my mother was working and I didn't like it that my mother was working," Alexis, now with Barcelona and one of the best-paid players in the world, said in a recent HBO short film chronicling his life. "When she was cleaning in the school I hid because I didn't like to see her there," added the 25-year-old. "If I had not become a football player I would probably have ended up working in the mine, or doing something else, something tough, but I would have done something. "I wanted to triumph as a footballer to help the family and the people of Tocopilla." Blessed with exceptional pace and ball control, Alexis is at his best when running at defenders down the right, either cutting inside to shoot or darting to the byline and sending over dangerous crosses. He made his professional debut for local club Cobreloa at the age of 16 before Serie A side Udinese recognised his potential and snapped him up. Udinese initially loaned him to Chilean club Colo Colo before he spent another season on loan, this time at River Plate in Argentina under current Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone. The Italian club finally recalled him at the age of 19 and after a couple of seasons adapting to life in Europe he exploded during the 2010-11 campaign, prompting Barca to pay 26.0 million euros ($36 million) to secure his services. However, he has never fully won over the demanding Nou Camp fans and although he has produced moments of brilliance, such as a superb lob against Real Madrid in October's La Liga 'Clasico', he has lacked consistency. While he competes for a place in the Barca attack with the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Pedro, Alexis is the undisputed leader of the Chile forward line and has 22 goals in 65 appearances for La Roja. He believes he developed as a person and a player during his first appearance at the World Cup finals in South Africa four years ago and is not short on confidence ahead of the latest edition in Brazil. Chile have been drawn in the tough Group B that includes holders Spain, featuring a host of Alexis's Barca team mates, 2010 runners-up Netherlands and Australia. "I believe Chile are going to win the World Cup," Alexis told HBO. "If I didn't I'd stay at home and watch it on TV." ($1 = 0.7228 Euros) (Editing by Greg Stutchbury and Mike Collett)

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