KAZAN, Russia — After 120 grueling and scoreless minutes, Claudio Bravo made three consecutive saves to put Chile in the Confederations Cup final at Portugal’s expense. Here are three quick thoughts on Chile’s 0-0 (3-0 on penalties) victory…
1. Bravo the hero as Chile reach the final
Chile will play Mexico or Germany in the Confederations Cup final and they have Claudio Bravo to thank. The Manchester City goalkeeper had a torrid 2016-17 season domestically but saved all three of Portugal’s penalties in a stunning shoot-out performance, denying Ricardo Quaresma, Joao Mourinho and Nani after a tense and sometimes controversial 120 minutes.
Early on, a goalless draw seemed the remotest of notions. Both sides should have scored in the opening seven minutes and their star men were the creators. Chile’s opening came when Alexis Sanchez sent Eduardo Vargas clear with a perfectly-weighted reverse pass; the striker should probably have shot with his left foot but running around the ball to shoot with his right, he gave Rui Patricio enough time to block sharply. Seconds later Andre Silva missed an even better chance when, located in front of goal by Cristiano Ronaldo’s left-sided centre, he allowed Bravo to save at the far post.
It was a breathless start as both sides were happy to leave something behind in the challenge, notably when Gonzalo Jara appeared to rake his studs down Andre Silva’s calf. William Carvalho went in similarly late on Arturo Vidal, earning a yellow card. The pace eventually slowed and although Charles Aranguiz missed the target twice for Chile, the first half ended underwhelmingly given its breakneck opening spell.
Vidal headed a Jean Beausejour cross over in the 54th minute from a good position and Vargas then came closer when, after flicking the ball up in the area, he forced a superb one-handed save out of Rui Patricio with an acrobatic volley. The tempo again picked up and Ronaldo, surging infield from the left, immediately drew a parry from Bravo.
Shortly after the hour, Vidal fired just over from 30 yards and at that point, a winner looked likely for someone. Ronaldo almost found it when his deflected effort looped wide, while he might have done better when heading off-target with five minutes of normal time to play.
By that stage, the game had petered out enough to make extra-time inevitable. Sanchez headed a Mauricio Isla delivery agonisingly wide as the additional 30 minutes began brightly; the major controversy would come in the 113th minute, though, when Chile substitute Francisco Silva appeared to be clipped in the box by Jose Fonte. Referee Alireza Faghani awarded a goal kick but replays showed a spot-kick should have been given. It was exactly the kind of scenario for which VAR was made but Faghani stood by his decision.
There was still time for Chile to come closer in a remarkable sequence that saw Vidal thump a post from 20 yards before another substitute, Martin Rodriguez, looped the ensuing rebound against the crossbar. Their luck seemed to be out but then Bravo produced his heroics and the celebrations could begin.
2. Portugal’s young stars fall short
On Wednesday night, Portugal’s new generation came up short and then their senior team-mates followed. Much of the talk after their first three games had been of Andre Silva and Bernardo Silva, the exciting young attackers whose influence on the national team has grown, but they did not get much space vs. Chile and were watching from the bench by the time their more experienced counterparts missed from the spot.
Portugal were weakened going into this game by Raphael Guerreiro’s suspected broken leg and the needless suspension Pepe picked up in the win over New Zealand. That might have contributed to Fernando Santos’ thinking in selecting a new-look midfield lineup including Carvalho, Adrien Silva and Andre Gomes. Ricardo Quaresma was among those sacrificed and it meant that on paper at least, this was a less expansive XI than the one that grew in confidence and fluidity as the group stage progressed.
Foremost in Santos’ thinking will also have been the fact that freshness, especially against a Chile side that is renowned for its energy but has showed some signs of fatigue in Russia, could be key. Portugal needed to have plenty of running; they still created chances but for long periods, this semifinal was a nip-and-tuck midfield battle. Carvalho and Adrien Silva patrolled the deep areas while Gomes, who failed to wield any real influence, looked to contribute tucking in from the left.
Stationed out on the right, Bernardo Silva had a frustrating night despite glimmers of the quick feet and vision that should shine at Manchester City; there were few significant glimpses of Andre Silva either after what proved a costly early miss. When the pair were replaced by Quaresma and Nani during the second half, it was evidence that the new generation had not quite lived up to the occasion.
The stage seemed set for some of last summer’s Euro 2016 heroes to step up. In the end three of them did, all failing to beat Bravo: presumably Ronaldo had been slated for the fifth, potentially decisive kick.
Portugal are in transition and will have benefited greatly from the last four games but their new generation will take time to find a decisive edge in games of this magnitude.
3. Chile and Sanchez power through
Chile are a tournament machine and are now on the cusp of claiming a third major title in as many years. They grew stronger as the 120 minutes went on, contrary to all logic, and ultimately deserved this win with Bravo, who saved so crucially from Andre Silva early on, book-ending his performance in thrilling fashion.
It was all the more commendable because there have been times over the past 10 days when it has seemed harder for them to muster up their old verve. The bulk of this team has been together for the best part of a decade, taking in the last two World Cups and the memorable Copa America wins of 2015 and 2016. They acutely know each other’s strengths; although they have faltered during their qualifying campaign for Russia 2018, they are as practiced a force as international football presents and even when not at their best, talents like Sanchez and Vidal have a knack of seeing them through.
Sanchez had been quiet against Australia in Chile’s final group game and was subdued again here, Portugal shutting the door effectively after his early pass for Vargas even if he might have converted an extra-time header. You wonder whether their relentless schedule over the past few years, while honing their togetherness and ensuring that the team has survived last year’s departure of ex-manager Jorge Sampaoli in decent shape, has had its drawbacks.
Chile’s talisman has generally been short of his best form in Russia but he blasted his spot kick, Chile’s third, past Rui Patricio, matching the emphatic finish with which Vidal had begun the shoot-out. Superbly supported here by their travelling contingent and enthusiastically backed by the local fans too, Chile will be glad of their extra day’s recovery before the final and will surely be favourites to add the Confederations Cup to their haul.
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