Santiago or bust for Chile

copa americaIt has been some years since Chile made any sort of impact on international football. In World Cup 2014, they pushed Brazil close in the round of 16 before losing on penalties. It’s a year ago this weekend that La Roja scared the host nation to death and let’s not forget they beat holders Spain in the group stage of that competition.

Chile are capitalising on their host nation status in this year’s Copa America and are now in the semi-final after beating Uruguay 1-0 in Santiago. The last time they got this far was in 1999 when they finished fourth in Paraguay. Their last final appearance was in 1987.

Chile tend to do well when the competition comes their way. This is the seventh time they have hosted the Copa America (in all its forms) and in the previous six, they have been placed in the first four. They have never won it – a source of irritation for Chile’s football fraternity – but they have been runners-up four times (1955,1956, 1979 and 1987).

The competition hasn’t had a host winner since 2001 when Colombia came out on top, but in the last three, the home nation has failed to finish in the first four.

Chile believe they have something of a “golden generation” at the moment and that their current squad is good enough to finally win the Copa America. Certainly in Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Eduardo Vargas (Napoli) and Claudio Bravo (Barcelona) they have top talent in their squad.

They have improved game-by-game in this year’s tournament. They started with a 2-0 win against Ecuador, with Vidal and Vargas scoring the goals. Vidal was on target again in the next game with Mexico. Twice the Mexicans led, but the final score was 3-3. It was a pulsating game that really lit-up the competition.

The momentum continued into the final group game as Chile beat Bolivia 5-0. Two goals came from midfielder Charles Aranquiz scored twice. Vidal and Sanchez were both brought off to rest them for the quarter-final. Vidal, he of the debatable hairstyle, had been charged with a drink-driving offence to days earlier.

Perhaps new heroes to add to the class of '62?
Perhaps new heroes to add to the class of ’62?

Winning the group meant that Chile would stay in Santiago. The quarter-final was shrouded in controversy. Defender Gonzalo Jara appeared to be conducting a rectal examination of Uruguay’s star striker Edinson Cavani, who – understandably – reacted with a slap in Jara’s face. But the red card went Cavani’s way and Uruguay were beaten 1-0 by an 81st minute goal from Juventus’ Mauricio Isla. Uruguay lost the plot after the goal and Jorge Fucile’s harsh challenge on Sanchez saw him sent for an early shower.

There’s a growing feeling that 2015 could be Chile’s year. They now face Peru in the last four and are favourites to make it through to the final. The South African leviathans, Brazil (minus Neymar) and Argentina, are poised to meet in the others semi-final. Argentina scraped through on penalties against Colombia, while Brazil face Paraguay this weekend.

Peru reached the quarter-finals with one win, one draw and a defeat in their three games. They swept Bolivia aside by 3-1 in the knockout tie, with Jose Guerrero notching a hat-trick. That took him to 24 goals for his country, just two behind the legendary Teofilo Cubillas’ record.

But all of Chile will be urging Jorge Sampaoli’s side to the July 4 final. If its Argentina, the locals will be only too aware that Chile have only beaten them once in more than 40 years. It might be time for them to call on their national motto: “Por la razón o la fuerza” (by might or by right) for a Little extra help!

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