When Jorge Sampaoli took over the Chilean team back in 2013, La Roja were everyone’s favorite international team. The South Americans played with ambition, tenacity and variety, bringing things to the soccer scene that were refreshing and vibrant. But they weren’t necessarily a winning team.
In truth, as a nation, Chile never really have been, despite their outstanding pedigree for producing engrossing talents. Now, however, with Sampaoli’s piercing blue eyes meticulously trained on every move, only Peru stand between La Roja and the Copa America final.
Remarkably, it’s familiar territory for their opponents. The Blanquirroja finished third at the 2011 edition of this tournament and despite a period of tumultuous transition in the build-up to the competition, Ricardo Gareca is getting something wonderful out of this understatedly classy crop of footballers.
Chile are the big favorites and anyone who tuned in to sample their quarter-final against Uruguay will be able to recall the raucous atmosphere conjured by the Santiago crowd. Expect even more from the La Roja faithful on Monday evening and for Sampaoli’s side to feed, as they always do, off the energy from their supporters.
Peru are likely to sit and soak up pressure against a Chile team that smother opposition sides. But they won’t be quite as offensively unambitious as La Roja’s last opponents and that should make for a much more open affair.
Here’s a detailed rundown of each side on the cusp of this clash and a look at the areas that’ll determine where this match is won and lost.
TV schedule for viewers in the United States:
Chile vs. Peru, 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.
Chile On the Brink of Glory
Aside from Gonzalo Jara’s bizarre infraction that led to Edinson Cavani being sent off, Chile kept their cool remarkably well against a Uruguay team that were out to spoil and frustrate in their quarter-final.
It was a true test of La Roja’s mental strength. In years gone past a streetwise and defensively determined outfit like La Celeste would have found a way past Chile, but Sampaoli has instilled a composure to complement the attacking effervescence. It’s a trait that’s going to be crucial again if they’re to go all the way.
This match will be a different kind of test for the hosts. Peru will be conscious of the offensive quality Chile possess, but they’ll be offensive when the opportune moments arise. With Jara absent, Sampaoli is also going to have to reshuffle the defensive side of the team and the Blanquirroja will surely be looking to test out this restructured facet of the side.
But this should enrich Chile’s attacking options. In the quarter-final, aside from the mercurial playmaking skills of Jorge Valdivia, Uruguay cut off the space for the majority of La Roja’s key attackers, preventing them from having a lasting effect on the game. Peru aren’t of that kind of make-up, though.
So Alexis Sanchez, who enchanted in flashes in the quarter-final and Arturo Vidal, who looked uncomfortable for the first time in his role on the right of midfield, should have the extra half-a-second to influence proceedings. For players of that quality, that’s all that’s need to turn a game.
No Pressure on Peru
When Peru set out ahead of this tournament, there was very little expected of them. Gareca had only taken the job on earlier this year and with a squad looking a little imbalanced, this tournament was perceived as a chance to test out some new systems and ease through a period of transition.
But this is a team that looks as though it has been fine-tuned for years. Peru have been excellent off the ball, confident on it and given how they performed in 2011, there’s a sense that this team is capable of achieving something special once again. A win here against Chile would probably be the most startling feat of the lot, though.
They certainly have the players that are capable of springing a shock too. While the defense has been a little jittery at times, they’ll prefer playing a counter-attacking style in the semi-final, sitting deep and allowing the likes of Jefferson Farfan to thrust this team upfield with his blistering vertical surges.
In years gone by, the Schalke winger has often been Peru’s best and only source of attacking incision. But this team has balance, with Christian Cueva’s play between the lines a joy to behold at this Copa, offering a brilliant supply line to the throwback centre-forward pairing of Paolo Guerrero and Claudio Pizarro.
Guerrero in particular has been in red hot form. He bagged a hat-trick against Bolivia in the last round and is relishing the direct, purposeful style of that Gareca has instilled. If he can play with the same sort of confidence and assurance up against what could be a makeshift Chile back four, Peru will get some joy.
Peru Balance: Peru will be well aware of the fact they’ll have to surrender possession in this one, as is the case for the overwhelming majority of teams who face Chile, but finding the appropriate level of ambition they show in their counter-attacking is going to be so important to their chances of success.
While Chile control the ball, the nature of their pressing can often make for frantic periods in the game. It was during these instances Uruguay got the most joy in the rare attacking forays they made and Peru have the quality to exploit gaps that could be left by Chile’s committed forward play.
It’s vital there is balance to their work, however, as Chile have the quality to dismantle any side when the game is strung out.
Chile Picking Out Sanchez: While there were some extraordinary, enthralling bursts from Sanchez against Uruguay, he was unable to have the same sort of sustained influence that he usually projects on games in the red of Arsenal or the national side.
La Celeste are experts at shutting off passes into the feet of quality attackers, but Peru? Not so much. It means that Chile’s midfield stars—Valdivia, Vidal and Charles Aranguiz—should have more joy arrowing passes into pockets of space which will allow Eduardo Vargas and, especially, Sanchez to wreak havoc.
The former Barcelona man has shown his ability to tip precarious matches his team’s way; expect him to assume the role of talisman once again in what’s arguably the biggest game in this countries history.
Verdict: Chile 3-1 Peru
Up to this point, most of the games at this Copa America have been tough watches. But these two are fiercely ambitious and unshakeably principled, meaning we’re set for a much more open affair here.
While that means we’re likely to see both teams create chances, Peru could find it tough to cope with Chile’s attacking options. La Roja attack from a variety of outlets and a plethora angles, which will make it tough for the Blanquirroja defence to provide a solid platform from which to spring.
And in those frenetic spells of the game, which will happen here, that’s when the hosts will be at their best.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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