There may well be a backdrop of festering smog in Santiago for the first Copa America quarter-final on Wednesday, but there’s little gloomy about the mood of the Chilean public as their team gear up for the last eight showdown with Uruguay.
In a tournament that has been laced with inexplicable moments of madness, the standard of soccer hasn’t quite scaled the heights many were expecting. Aside from the hosts, it must be said.
Chile have gone about their business with a brazen swagger so far and a favorable draw for the knockout phases looks to have given La Roja a wonderful chance to secure the continental crown for the first time in the country’s history.
While they’ve grafted their way through to the last eight, Uruguay, the reigning champions, are not a team to rule out. Oscar Tabarez’s men have yet to find a formula to help compensate for the lack of Luis Suarez as of yet, but as you’d expect from any Celeste team, they’ve been dogged and determined in all of their matches to this point.
TV schedule for viewers in the United States:
Chile vs. Uruguay, 7:30pm ET kickoff time (pre-game starts at 6:30pm ET) — exclusively on beIN SPORTS and beIN SPORTS en Espańol.
Programming note: In the United States, beIN SPORTS has the exclusive English-language and Spanish-language rights to the tournament. If your cable or satellite provider doesn’t offer beIN SPORTS, or you want to watch the games on your computer, mobile phone, tablet or Roku, sign up for a free trial to fuboTV to watch the games. And if you like what you see, fuboTV is just $6.99 per month. It’s completely legal and features HD-quality streams, but is only available to soccer fans in the United States.
Here’s the lowdown on both of these sides ahead of what will be a pulsating occasion in the Chilean capital.
Pressure on La Roja to Progress
Chile are one of the most refreshing teams to watch anywhere in the world. Jorge Sampaoli’s side may not be bristling with superstar talent, fearsome athletes or towering defenders, but there’s a fire burning in these players whenever they take to the field, whatever the occasion.
So while a half of the draw which also contains Uruguay, Peru and Bolivia may prompt complacency in some sides, La Roja, who seem admirably modest whenever they do take to the field, will not change their attitude.
Everything is about intent with Sampaoli’s side and that’s been abundantly clear in the opening matches of this competition. Chile may not have been at their best in matches against Ecuador and Mexico, but the manner in which they pressed, tackled and scrapped for every ball in those games was emblematic of the type of team they’ve become under this regime.
In the final group came, everything aligned for the hosts. It may have been a clash against minnows Bolivia, but La Verde have been brilliantly organized at the tournament so far, as evident by their progression into the last 16 of the competition. Chile tore them apart with an accomplished performance.
There are some understated members of this La Roja squad beginning to earn some overdue recognition too. Gary Medel does an exceptional job marshallng a defense which regularly deviates in shape and numbers, while the excellent Charles Aranguiz and his midfield partner Marcelo Diaz are a fantastically functional partnership at the heart of this team.
Of course, any side looking to go all the way in this competition needs a bit of stardust. For Chile that magic usually comes via Juventus’ multifaceted midfield stalwart Arturo Vidal—afforded extra freedom for the national side—and firebrand forward Alexis Sanchez. These two have shone so far, but Uruguay’s stringent defensive effort will pose La Roja’s adaptable attack with its biggest challenge yet.
Uruguay Looking to Spoil the Party
In a group stage that has served up plenty of surprises, arguably the most predictable team has been Uruguay. Tabarez’s Celeste side have given us exactly what you’d expect from a squad of fiercely determined players that are missing their talismanic striker.
Defensively, Uruguay could well be the best team in Copa America. Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez have a brilliant understanding at club level, something that the Atletico Madrid duo have carried into into the national side so far. With the energetic Maxi and Alvaro Pereira flanking them and the defensively minded Arevalo Rios prowling in front, it’s little surprise the holders have only conceded two goals so far.
Where they’ve struggled badly is at the sharp end of the pitch. While Edinson Cavani is an elite forward and a proven goalscorer at the highest level, without El Pistolero alongside him at the point of the Celeste attack, the Paris Saint-Germain star can have his influence nullified without too much of a problem.
In fairness to Cavani, that’s as much to do with the supply that’s coming from midfield, which is an area of longstanding concern for Uruguay. Tabarez has tinkered with a host of different combinations so far in this facet of the team, but none of Nicolas Lodeiro, Cristian Rodriguez or Diego Rolan have been able to effectively assume the role of creator-in-chief yet.
One area Uruguay may have an edge is mentally. La Celeste have well-established reputation as party-poopers in this tournament and have knocked out the host nation at the quarter-final stage in each of the last two Copa Americas. In addition, given a sizeable chunk of this squad were prominent in Uruguay’s triumph four years ago, it’d be no surprise if Garra Charrua won through once again.
Uruguay Set Pieces: Gimenez has already netted in this tournament and in Godin, Uruguay have one of the best attackers of an aerial ball in world soccer. Cavani and Abel Hernandez are also very handy meeting the ball from free-kicks and corners.
If the game is tight, these instances could be crucial and given the clear height difference between the two teams—La Roja’s players are considerably smaller in stature—Chile must refrain from conceding needless fouls around the penalty area and find a way to cope with the towering aerial options in Tabarez’s team.
By contrast, the Uruguay manager will be keen to emphasise the importance of quality deliveries.
Chile Attacking Variety: One noticeable factor when watching Uruguay is how comfortable they are at shutting off spaces when they play is in front of them. Indeed, the only time Argentina really troubled Tabarez’s team in the group stages was when they worked the ball wide, stretched the defense laterally and deliver telling balls into the box.
Chile have shown a myriad of strings to their attacking bow so far. They are an adaptable side, capable of adjusting their forward forays to better exploit the opposition’s weakness; it’s this kind of in-game ingenuity that’s going to be so important if they’re going to scythe through one of the meanest defenses in international soccer.
Verdict: Chile 2-0 Uruguay
In general play, Chile definitely have the edge coming into this one. La Roja may not be as sturdy and organized as the holders, but the intensity they play with can unsettle even the most organized of outfits.
Uruguay’s gameplan won’t deviate much from what we’ve seen in the past when they meet illustrious opponents. They’ll sit, soak up pressure, scrap to win the ball back and look to play off Cavani’s endeavor on the counter-attack. As aforementioned, set pieces will represent a big area of concern for Sampaoli too.
But for La Celeste, keeping concentration levels sharp for long spells against a side as effervescent as Chile is a major ask.
It could be a nervy one for the Santiago crowd and it’s vital some patience is exercised if Uruguay do initially nullify the flair plays in the XI. Eventually, the hosts will overwhelm their obdurate opponents and take a big step towards glory.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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