SALVADOR DE BAHÍA – Chile progressed to the knock-out round of the Copa America in a fiery match against Ecuador which saw nine yellow cards and one red. The 1-2 victory was enough to ensure Chile qualify with one match remaining.
Ecuador started in a high pressing but at times chaotic fashion which saw Jhegson Méndez receive a yellow card in the first three minutes. Chile opened the scoring after only eight minutes when a defensive header found José Fuenzalida on the edge of the penalty box who stuck his half-volley with pin-point accuracy into the bottom corner of the goal. It looked like Chile were going to complete another rout, as they did against Japan, but in fact it was their only shot on target for the entire first-half.
After scoring, Chile settled into a complacency which saw them give up the ball too easily. On 26’ Ecuador rallied and Méndez rounded Gabriel Arias, who brought the player down and gave away a penalty. It was fortunate that Arias was not booked for the challenge. Enner Valencia took and scored the spot-kick with a thunderous strike straight down the centre of the goal. Late in the first half, Arias was again in trouble as he charged far out of the penalty area to attempt to clear a through pass but appeared to bring down Méndez in the process. A VAR decision complicated matters as although it was clear the goalkeeper did not make contact with the Ecuadoran forward, he was still booked. The result could have been a lot worse with many of the Ecuadoran players demanding that the referee send Arias off as he was the last man.
A rather disappointing first-half ended 1-1 and Chile looked to be hanging on for the draw. Chile rallied early on in the second-half and again took the lead as Charles Aránguiz lofted a cross all the way over the penalty box to the awaiting and unmarked Alexis Sánchez who expertly controlled and slotted the ball into the opposite corner of the goal. Sánchez will take the headlines again, not just for the goal and ultimately winning Chile the match, but even more remarkably for apparently coming out in the second-half with an ankle injury sustained in the first-half. The player admitted he took painkillers during half-time to make it out, and oh how thankful fans of the La Roja were.
After the goal, Chile were happy to allow Ecuador the ball and they proceeded to soak up pressure for the rest of the half. Ecuador’s frustration showed and the match descended into chaos which saw a barrage of fouls and yellow cards and ultimately ended up in Gabriel Achilier elbowing Arturo Vidal, who had earlier been booked, to receive a red card. A disappointing end for Ecuador who now need to beat Japan to stand any chance of qualifying as a highest point’s scorer in third place.
Chile have answered their critics and overturned what have been several months of terrible form to produce two decisive showings so far. They go into the match with Uruguay having the luxury to rest their top players if needed and now again emerge as a favorite for the tournament, although there’s a long way to go yet.
Domínguez, Ramírez, Arboleda, Achilier, Velasco – Gruezo – Romario Ibarra (Garces, 69′), Méndez (A. Valencia, 60′), Orejuela, Mena (Preciado, 82′) – E. Valencia
Arias, Beausejour, Maripán, Medel, Isla – Vidal (Jara, 90′), Pulgar, Aranguiz – A. Sánchez, Vargas (P. Hernández, 86′), Fuenzalida (P. Díaz, 70′)
John is a volcanologist, sports fan, radio broadcaster, and accomplished musician. Born and raised in Britain, he has travelled extensively for his research on volcanoes. Whilst living in London, UK, John performed in the punk bands ‘And Now We’re Even’ and ‘Filthy Militia’ recording six studio albums and two EP’S over this time. He currently lives in Santiago, Chile where he works as a university professor in rock mechanics.