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Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal undergoes surgery ahead of World Cup, recovery time uncertain

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BARCELONA, Spain - Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal underwent right knee surgery on Wednesday, five weeks before his country's first match at the World Cup.

The operation in Barcelona was led by specialist surgeon Ramon Cugat, and was accompanied by Chile and Juventus team doctors.

The club, which won the Serie A on Sunday, said Vidal needed arthroscopic surgery on the lateral meniscus of his right knee.

"We don't dare to say a recovery time because there's a World Cup in the making," Cugat after the surgery. "There are many factors at play here: He has to be in good form, in a good mood, and his knee has to respond well. But he's a very courageous player with a strong character, and he's always positive. He's a winner."

Vidal has been instrumental in helping Juventus to three successive Serie A titles since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen in 2011. He was struggling with problems in his right knee for more than a month, but continued to play for Juventus until his injury worsened during the second leg of the Europa League semifinal against Benfica last Thursday.

"The treatment that has been carried out is correct," Cugat said, fending off growing criticism in Europe and Chile about how Juventus managed his injury.

"I can say that I have many players, at the international level, who have continued to play with a tear to the lateral meniscus."

Since joining Juventus, Vidal has transformed impressively from being a stopper to making himself into a versatile player who recovers lost passes, sets up goals, and often scores. He has eight goals in 46 appearances for Chile, and become the national team's best hope in the World Cup.

"The surgery went very well," Vidal Tweeted after the procedure. "Now, I'll give it my best to join my teammates in Brazil! Go Chile!"

Chile has one of its strongest teams, but it faces huge challenges in Brazil. Chile is in Group B with world and European champion Spain, the Netherlands and Australia.

Even if it advances as the group's second qualifier, it would likely have to play against host and five-time champion Brazil. But fans remain confident that Vidal will recover in time, and Chile will continue its solid record: It lost only two out of 15 games last year, including a draw with Spain and win over England in friendlies.

In a statement, Juventus said Vidal will be released from the hospital on Thursday and will return to Turin to continue his recovery. Chilean football association president Sergio Jadue said on Wednesday that he has asked Juventus to let Vidal return to Chile on May 15.

Back home in Chile, President Michelle Bachelet echoed the feelings of the millions of fans who are pinning their hopes on his recovery in time for the World Cup.

"We all want Vidal to play," Bachelet said on Wednesday. "Our wish is for his prompt recovery. But he must do the necessary rehabilitation so he can continue to play in the same huge role. If it's not for the first game, we're hoping he can play in the second match."

After opening against Australia, Chile faces Spain in its second game.

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Associated Press writers Luis Andres Henao and Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile contributed to this report.

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