Through two group stage games at the 2017 Confederations Cup, Chile have been a mixed bag to some extent. At times, they’ve shown the grit, ingenuity and skill that have made them two-time defending Copa América champions. Other times, they look like the team that’s been fluctuating throughout 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Against Cameroon, Chile were uninspired for long stretches and, aside from the newly-instituted Video Assistant Referee taking away an Eduardo Vargas goal on the stroke of half-time, were denied time after time by impressive Indomitable Lions keeper, Fabrice Ondoa. Then versus Germany, La Roja’s 4-4-2 diamond formation caused the world champions all sorts of problems in the first half, with lots of pressing high up the pitch and silencing their attack bar Lars Stindl’s 41st minute goal against the run of play. In the second half, Chile again lacked inspiration, hardly threatening Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal and looking content with a point by the 75th minute mark.
One thing from both games that is clear though is the ever-growing importance of their two talismanic figures, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez. Both difference makers in Chile’s Copa triumphs, they combined on Chile’s game-winning strike against Cameroon as Sánchez, a second-half substitute, played in a cross with the outside of his boot to a rising Vidal, who finally solved the Ondoa puzzle with nine minutes left in regulation.
The duo then made an instant against the Germans, capitalising on Shkodran Mustafi’s giveaway and combining on the edge of the box as Vidal sent through Sánchez who beat ter Stegen on his near post just six minutes in.
The strike was a record-breaker for the Arsenal forward, beating Marcelo Salas’ mark for the most goals scored for Chile’s national team (38). Though the goal and first half performance from El Niño Maravilla lifted his side, it was Vidal’s performance that stood out throughout with a man of the match performance. Against Die Mannschaft, Vidal record six tackles and six interceptions and four key passes, showing the all-world capabilities Bayern Munich fans seek week in and week out at club level. Should he continue to showcase his versatility and Sánchez fix the kinks in his passing which has been hit and miss in the tournament so far, Chile could very well take home the crown.
Chile’s defensive unit showed real promise against the Germans as they restricted Germany’s touches in the 18 yard box, forcing them to take cracks from long range that largely failed to test Johnny Herrera. Herrera, filling in for the injured Claudio Bravo, has smooth sailing through two games thanks to a defense that has flourished in big moments despite not possessing strong individual talent. Led by defensive midfielder turned centre back, Inter Milan’s Gary Medel, as well as mainstays such as Gonzalo Jara, Mauricio Isla and Jean Beausejour, manager Juan Antonio Pizzi will be relying on the back four’s chemistry to continue to get by in order to allow his team’s wealth of attacking talent to shine through.
Currently leading their group on goal difference over Germany and needing just a point against a gutsy Australia side to advance, Chile look ready to make another charge for silverware. A strong all-round performance will be what Pizzi will look for from his side after two games that would surely have left him wanting more. Despite having the oldest squad in the tournament, Chile have gained the wisdom and big game moxie to see things through in big spots and both qualities have kept them afloat so far at Russia 2017. Should they defeat the Aussies in the rematch of their 2014 World Cup meeting, a match up with one of Portugal, Russia or Mexico awaits, all possible opponents who this fearless bunch will like their odds against.